LAMBERTVILLE - Last week's public hearing on the fate of a huge privately-funded road improvement project was supposed to be a high-water mark for residents in the Green Hills subdivision, a time to come together for the good of all neighbors, as one speaker put it, to protect each other.
Instead, the fractious 75-minute debate marred with catcalls, hoots, and even threats of violence from the standing-room-only audience exposed a neighborhood rift that has grown deeper than any pothole ever could.
And even though Bedford Township board members ultimately voted unanimously to create the special assessment district that will fund $1.2 million in road and drainage improvements in Green Hills, they openly wondered whether a neighborhood so evenly divided could heal enough to pay the bill.
"It troubles me that we have a severely divided neighborhood in our township over a situation that we are all troubled by: the deteriorating roads in our state," trustee Paul Francis said.
Next month, Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn will "split" the cost of the project among the 253 lots in the Green Hills sub-division and add it to next year's tax roll, meaning residents in Green Hills should get their first bill for the work in December 2006, after it's been completed. Each lot is expected to get a bill of just under $5,000, which can be paid all at once or over a 15-year period, with interest.
The action next month may reignite the debate among Green Hills residents, many of whom voiced strong opinions last week.
"When Monroe County's roads are all nice to drive on, then I'll pay to fix mine," said Terry Trout, who lives on Ridgewood Lane. "It's going to force me to sell my house. That's the bottom line for me."
The cost and scope of the project seemed to dominate much of the debate.
"Green Hills is a beautiful community, and all of us in the association are bound to take care of one another," argued Bob Chandler, who lives on Edinburgh. "I personally would pay $5,000 tonight if I could be assured we would go ahead with it. I'd rather pay $5,000 tonight rather than $10,000 five years from now. "
Residents also voiced concerns about how the bill for the project would be split.
"Who determines what roads gotta be fixed," asked longtime resident Tom George, who lives on Croyden Court and argued that his street and others in the area are fine. "I've lived there since 1989, and there's not one pothole back there that needs to be fixed. You are talking about people in that area all paying equal. The whole population can drive on those roads. They don't pay equal fees or equal assessments."
But other residents argued that if Green Hills residents waited for local government to come to their rescue, they would be waiting a very, very long time. They also argued that the project itself would help protect home values in the subdivision.
"You can say that we don't want to pay the assessments to improve the roads, but if we don't do that, then the values of our properties are going to decrease far more than what it will cost to improve the roads," said Reed Proctor, who lives on Wiltshire Drive. "We've got roads that look like we've torn up the grass and thrown gravel on it."
So evenly divided were the residents of Green Hills on the issue that, just five hours before the meeting, the petitions submitted weeks earlier no longer contained a majority of the road frontage in question, one of two criteria that petitioners must meet to move forward.
"At 2:30 [p.m.], they were effectively dead petitions," township clerk Bob Schockman said. "But enough people signed the petition [before and during the public hearing] that we had good majorities."
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