Process Ruffles Some Feathers in Colts NeckBy Joseph SapiaCOLTS NECK – The Monmouth County Agriculture Development Board has unanimously approved a proposal by entertainer Jon Stewart and his wife to create an agricultural sanctuary-education center on the historic Hockhockson Farm on Route 537.On Tuesday, 10 members of the board voted to OK the application for the 45-acre farm. The farm- easily recognized by its sign, “Hockhockson Farm, A.D. 1780,” with silhouettes of seven running horses – is between Swimming River and Laird Roads.The next major step for JTS Land Trust – the entity of Stewart and his wife, Tracey – is to seek site plan approval from the township to build an 8,400-square-foot, two-story education-visitor center, among other things.The education-visitor center is not a permitted use in the township’s agriculture zone. But the board’s approval of the education-visitor center as a legitimate part of the farming operation allows the Stewarts to bypass a township variance for zoning.Colts Neck officials, however, have not liked the idea of the Stewarts going to the Agriculture Development Board, rather than to the township. Colts Neck has expressed concern about a loss of control over building the education-visitor center, along with traffic and parking issues.So, anticipating the Stewarts winning approval from Agriculture Development Board, the Colts Neck Township Committee authorized an appeal, to be used if necessary. An appeal would go to the state Department of Agriculture.Jon Stewart, left, talks to Colts Neck Deputy Mayor Michael Fitzgerald after the Monmouth County Agriculture Development Board OK’d an application by Stewart and his wife, Tracey, to operate an agricultural sanctuary-education center in Colts Neck. Photo: Joseph SapiaDeputy Mayor Michael Fitzgerald said it would have been more appropriate for the Stewarts and their co-applicant, Hockhockson Farm, to seek approval from the township and, if rejected, to use the county board for an appeal.“At the end of the day, I remain disappointed they usurped the town’s authority by coming to this board,” said Fitzgerald, speaking immediately after the vote at the county Agricultural Building in Freehold Township.But the Stewarts’ side viewed their path – that is, through the Agriculture Development Board – as acceptable.Fitzgerald also questioned whether the Stewarts actually got a “variance” from the Agricultural Development Board to bypass the township Zoning Board.Philip San Filippo, a lawyer for the Stewarts and Hockhockson Farm, disagreed, saying the next stop is the township Planning Board, not the township Zoning Board, because no variance is needed.When told about the authorized appeal, San Filippo said, “I’m hoping they’ll re-think that. I think that’s counter-productive.”Both sides expressed a willingness to work out their differences.Barring a delay through an appeal or elsewhere, the plan is to open the sanctuary-education center in about a year.“Our plan was spring 2017; we’re still going to shoot for that,” said Tracey Stewart, speaking after the vote.Hockhockson Farm now operates as a horse-boarding and vegetable-flower farm.The Stewarts, who live in Red Bank and are the contract-purchasers of the farm, plan to continue growing vegetables and flowers, retaining tenant farmer Robert Laurino. The Stewarts also plan to have cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses and chickens.Tracey Stewart, a former veterinary technician who lived on a farm as a child, testified before the Agriculture Development Board last month the farm will not be a rescue facility, per se. Instead, it will get animals from the New York State-based Farm Sanctuary, which rescues animals.The Agriculture Development Board vote gave the Stewarts added protection via the state Right to Farm Act to, among other things, grow crops, dispose of manure on-site, continue operating the farm’s farm market and conduct education related to a commercial farm. Under Right to Farm, farmers have added protection against neighbor’s nuisance complaints, for example.The Agriculture Development Board ruled the Stewarts would not have Right to Farm protection for such things as the care and keeping of sanctuary animals and the use of animals for veterinary study – basically because these animals do not meet a commercial farm’s production requirements. The Stewarts will still be able to do these things, but without the added protection.Before the vote, Agriculture Development Board member Nancy Grbelja said, “I have no problem with it (the proposal). I think it is a good plan.“One of the keys to success (to running a farm) is being a good neighbor,” Grbelja said.After the vote, Jon Stewart, the former host of the popular “Daily Show” on Comedy Central television, told the Agriculture Development Board, “We very much appreciate your thoughtful comments. We hope to continue to use your counsel.”Township resident John Kissel told the Agriculture Development Board he hopes there are more proposals such as the Stewarts’ down the road. Otherwise, Kissel said, the land will be developed.After the meeting, Tracey Stewart said, “It’s been a long haul. It’s really exciting. We can really get things going.”The Stewarts had planned the sanctuary-education center for a 12-acre farm they own in the McClees Creek area of Middletown, Tracey Stewart said. But that farm had obstacles to running a sanctuary-education center open to the public, such as its location on an unpaved road and its small size.Tracey Stewart said the Middletown farm likely will be sold.Tracey Stewart said the Stewarts are not relocating their residence to Hockhockson Farm.John Young, a neighbor of Hockhockson Farm who had previously raised concerns about the proposal, said he was glad the Stewarts are preserving the farm. But he added he was glad the township would scrutinize the proposal.Hockhockson Farm is owned by Robert Cooke III, who lives on the farm; his sister, Claudia Machado Cooke; and the husband of their late sister.Robert Cooke testified his family has owned the farm a “couple hundred years.” Cooke had said the farm was once 290 acres, but had been downsized a few times.More from the Two River TimesStewarts’ Farm Sanctuary Proposal Takes Seed (April 7, 2016)Jon Stewart Eyes Colts Neck for Animal Sanctuary (March 31, 2016)
By Jay Cook |MIDDLETOWN – On the heels of yet another fatal school shooting earlier in the day, this time in Maryland, Middletown’s Board of Education took steps on Tuesday, March 20 to help ensure each of its 17 schools will be safer and more secure in the future.At the introduction of the district school budget hearing, Middletown schools’ business administrator Amy Gallagher said one of the “bigger areas” in the 2018-2019 budget focuses on creating 15 new “Safe School Officer” roles. The spending plan calls for a $455,952 expenditure for safe school officers, which Gallagher called “SSOs.”The four security guards currently split between the district’s two high schools – Middletown North and Middletown South – are to be retrained and become part of that team.“As you may or may not know, right now we don’t have security guards specifically assigned to the elementary schools,” Gallagher said. “This would assign security guards to the elementary schools and also bolster what we have in the middle schools and high schools.”Earlier in the day, authorities in Maryland said a 17-year-old male student shot and wounded three other students at Great Mills High School with a handgun before he was stopped and died after a gun fight with an armed school resource officer on duty at the high school. One of the victims, a 16-year old girl, died later on Tuesday.Middletown Schools Superintendent William O. George explained to about 35 parents in attendance how proposed SSOs are different from school resource officers. The main difference, George said, is that an SSO would not be permitted to carry a concealed firearm into the school. He emphasized that option is not on the table right now. SSOs are also school employees, while school resource officers are police department employees.An SSO “works directly with the school system and will not be carrying a weapon but would be a retired law enforcement professional with background and training with other responsibilities in the school,” George explained.George said school security discussions, in Middletown and across the county, have increased and accelerated recently. He met with the Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools’ roundtable, has had talks with the Monmouth County Police Chief Association and will meet soon with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office as well as other state departments, said George.“Maintaining a hardened front” is the main benefit of having an SSO in each of Middletown’s schools, George said.While supportive of proposed security increases, some concerned parents spoke up during public comment to question the viability of retired professionals and whether or not concealed carry should be an option.“If they don’t have any type of weapon, then what’s the difference between (an SSO) and just a retired elderly person running around if the school gets breached?” questioned resident Jen Rosen.“I think a trained law enforcement professional is fantastic – I think they add a value – but my question is on the age and the fitness,” she continued. “We’re talking about people who are retired for a reason.”Maryellen Chappell, who has children in three district schools, said her husband is a retired police officer and that she wholly supports having an armed officer in the schools“The time is now. We just had a shooting today. And you know what, there was one fatality, but that’s one fatality too much,” Chappell said. “But that guy was taken out by a security guard that was trained to take that person out.”George reaffirmed that Middletown schools “are not having armed, concealed carry at this time,” but added this process could “create the opportunity for that in the future if that’s the direction over time.”Also part of the budget increases to school security were a $160,000 cost for replacing the public address system at Middletown South, as well as at least $100,000 budgeted for replacing secure APR doors at the elementary schools.The push for improved infrastructure highlights a two-year initiative where Middletown’s schools have budgeted $2.3 million over the past two years for security and surveillance measures.The 2018-2019 proposed budget of approximately $141.6 million includes an estimated 1.8 percent school levy increase to homeowners in Middletown. A homeowner with a home assessed at the average value of $423,427 would pay approximately an additional $156 under the spending plan. The tax levy would generate over $2.4 million in new revenue for the school district.The tentative budget will be voted on at the Board’s March 28 meeting and a public hearing and final adoption will likely occur at the April 25 meeting.This article was first published in the March 22-29, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
Steve Mota scored two touchdowns for the Vikings, including an 80-yard run in the first half, and passed for another score to lead the Castlegar offence.The game was a seasaw affair with the lead exchanging hands throughout the contest.With Castlegar leading 21-15, Nelson marched down the field for the tying score.However, with time running out Bryan Lauzon kicked a single point giving the Vikings the win.In the early game, a short-staffed Dam Inn Mates team was no match for the surprisingly hungry Brewers.Action resumes Sunday at Mount Sentinel with Vikings facing Brewers at 11 a.m. and the top two teams in the league, Dam Inn and Hour Glass, taking to the field at 1 p.m. Watch out everyone, the Castlegar Vikings are making their late-season run.Pretty much counted out in most games this season, the one-time heavyweights in the West Kootenay Men’s Flag Football League score a late single-point to edge Nelson’s Hour Glass 22-21 in action Sunday at the Mount Sentinel Field.In other action, the Brewers upset previously unbeaten Dam Inn Mates 22-15.The two wins sends a message to Hour Glass and Mates, the top two teams in the league, the bottom feeders are coming.