Long-serving Steve Rovell looks to take mayor’s seat

Now in his fifth term as a Belleville lawmaker, Steve Rovell is seeking to topple incumbent Mayor Michael Melham in the township election May 10.

Steven Rovell, who currently represents the Second Ward on the Township Council, is making his first bid for the township’s highest municipal office. His running mates are Charles Hood, the township’s information technology officer and Tracey Juanita Williams, who sits on the Board of Education. 

Rovell is a senior program manager at the Picatinny Federal Arsenal in Morris County.

Rovell, whose family members are third-generation Belleville residents, has served the last decade as president of the longstanding nonprofit Belleville Foundation which has donated more than $100,000 in college scholarships to local high school alums since the 1940s as part of its commitment toward the future of Belleville. And, for the past 15 years, he’s served as an unpaid Suburban Metro Joint Insurance Fund commissioner.

Rovell said he’s running for mayor “because I see the town going in a different direction than what I expected.” What Rovell characterized as the “hyper-development” spawned by revisions to the township’s master plan that “took away restrictions on density” and parking guidelines “which I voted against” is leaving Belleville “congested and with parking problems.”

If he becomes mayor, Rovell said he’d focus on achieving a “balanced (development) portfolio” that would promote, in particular, “more affordable senior housing,” along with a mix of commercial, retail and residential growth that’s more in line with the height and size of existing neighborhood homes and apartment buildings. 

Some of the new residential projects supported by the Melham administration have “doubled or tripled” the number of units that would previously been allowed under the township’s old master plan, Rovell said. 

With the current administration’s backing, one developer was permitted, under what Rovell called “spot zoning,” to “add an extra floor” to a new residential structure planned for a location at Franklin and Hilton avenues. 

“But it doesn’t fit in that neighborhood,” Rovell said.

“I know we have to have some new developments,” he said, “but not the type of projects that will not be conducive to the ‘beautiful village’ concept projected by the town’s founders. A lot of people have moved here from Jersey City and Newark because they wanted to get away from the parking issues and overwhelming residential towers they were dealing with in those cities.” 

Rovell said that, as mayor, he’d strive to find the type of new development projects — preferably commercial — that, he said, would tend not to overburden public schools “which are overcrowded now.”  

Other goals: boost more public parking, call for an audit of residents’ water bills (from Newark) which, he noted, have grown “extremely out of proportion” in the last year and a half while creating a special billing rate for senior citizens, ensure that municipal recreation programs for youths are kept free, get improved flooding controls for the Valley area, restore council consent to Class IV Planning Board appointments as provided under the Faulkner Act and oppose the administration’s proposed share- service agreement with the school board for acquisition of the Eastern International College property “until we get further details on the financials.”

Some actions Rovell said he worked on, to Belleville’s advantage, include: prioritizing the hiring of local residents for public safety and public works jobs and helping secure $2 million in outside grants for the high school stadium improvements. He credited the school board and Superintendent Rich Tomko for other recreational upgrades such as creating the new playground at School 7.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York