By Jennifer Ortiz
HOWELL – A group of residents wants to conduct an election that, if successful, would recall Robert Nicastro and remove him from his position on the Howell Township Council before the scheduled end of his current term on Dec. 31, 2018.
The three men leading the effort are Charles P. O’Donnell, Stephen J. Charney and Paul Dorato. They filed a recall petition that has been certified by the municipal clerk, but that certification does not guarantee the question will appear on the November general election ballot.
The recall petition asserts that Nicastro has failed to act solely in the best interests of Howell, that he has failed to abide by his oath as an elected official, that he no longer represents the interests of a majority of Howell residents and that he is no longer deserving of the privilege of serving Howell residents.
In an interview, O’Donnell, Charney and Dorato said this is a nonpartisan effort. They claim there are many residents who are extremely unhappy with the actions and inaction of the council members, as well as the results of those actions and inaction.
The men said they took issue with Nicastro’s actions and vote to approve a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the developer of the proposed Howell Family Apartments affordable housing project at West Farms and Fort Plains roads.
A PILOT program allows a property owner to pay a set amount to the township each year in lieu of paying property taxes that would be based on the assessed value of the property in a given year.
“This action (allowing a payment in lieu of taxes) will cause an impact and tax burden for the residents of Howell related to the Board of Education, and police and fire (services),” O’Donnell, Charney and Dorato said.
The men claim Nicastro is ignoring the inability of Howell’s existing infrastructure to support rapid building projects.
“The current infrastructure and resources in Howell cannot cope with the current unnecessary overdevelopment and proposed further large-scale developments. It is the responsibility of the council and their appointed boards to look at these issues on a grander and long-term impact. Voting yes to programs such as PILOT is not the answer … We have seen a pattern of ‘merry go-round’ politics in Howell and it is time to stop it,” the trio said.
The men claim Nicastro has turned “a blind eye” to the destruction of Howell’s natural resources and history and expects residents to “swallow the bitter pill” of over-building and go on with their lives. They claim he has ignored the testimony and presentations of residents in various forums.
Asked to comment on the recall effort, Nicastro said, “I have been informed a group that is unhappy with the township’s affordable housing plan is starting a recall. However, I will continue to be diligently focused on my job serving the residents of Howell.
“My record since serving on the council has demonstrated that I am against overdevelopment and always fight to protect Howell to keep it a great place to live. I have continuously said that the lack of the Legislature in dealing with the affordable housing crisis New Jersey faces is the fight. … The governing body in conjunction with the Planning Board had to submit a required reasonable housing plan to the court.
“Although some feel it is not perfect, we needed to submit a plan to receive protection from the court or face hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight developers from building more homes, ultimately exposing Howell to sprawl, overcrowding and destroying our community.
“As recently as (Feb. 18), the mayor and I attended a meeting with (Senate President) Sen. Stephen Sweeney to express our community’s concern and (we) highlighted many flaws in the current affordable housing process. … I think the senator understood and gave us assurances that he would be supporting legislation to help municipalities. I will continue to be advocating for changes in the law as I always have,” Nicastro said.
In order for the recall question to appear on the November ballot, the organizers will have to obtain the signature of about 8,700 registered Howell voters, according to municipal clerk Penny Wollman. That number represents 25 percent of Howell residents who were registered to vote on the date of the last general election, Nov. 3, 2015.
O’Donnell, Charney and Dorato said the recall committee has an action plan in place to obtain the required signatures.
“We the people of Howell are awakening to the deceptions and neglect of our current township government. We will take back our great town. This is a representative republic and we will elect only those who will listen to their constituents,” they said, adding that recall efforts for other municipal officials could be undertaken in the future.