A controversial redevelopment plan took center stage at a candidates forum with Mayor Chris Vergano and Jane Hutchison, his Democratic challenger.
Vergano helped develop the plan. It is designed to encourage businesses and developers to utilize several vacant or under utilized commercial properties.
The plan has drawn the ire of residents who have said it will “ruin” and “destroy” the character of Wayne.
Vergano hoped the plan would “give Wayne a real downtown, something many residents have been asking for.”
Hutchinson and her running mates agreed that more development is needed but blasted the plan, saying more development does not necessarily lead to a more stable tax base or lower taxes.
“We need to think outside the box when it comes to getting businesses here,” said Hutchinson.
Vergano announced the plan has been placed on hold until what the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Council on Affordable Housing would be on the town before moving forward. Officials are waiting to hear how many affordably-priced units Wayne must have for the latest round of requirements.
The plan drew the ire of residents, including a group called Wayne Concerned Citizens, made up mostly of Republicans. Members have spoken out against the plan at planning board and council meetings. Other opponents of the plan have placed orange and black signs with “Do Not Rezone Wayne” on their front laws.
“I have heard many of your concerns, loud and clear. Rest assured, whatever concept we move ahead with will address the concerns of the residents,” Vergano said. “Remember, I work for you.”
Hutchinson and others heavily criticized the Wayne Economic Development Commission. Hutchinson said the group hasn’t met in months and when they do, not very much gets done.
“I think we need to put a group of experts and citizens together and have open hearings,” Hutchison said.
Vergano said that although there has been a lot of good news regarding development, the opening of a Quick Chek and Walgreens on Hamburg Turnpike, Haier moving 500 to 600 jobs to Wayne, and the rebuilding of the Wayne Town Center, more needs to be done.
“We have a slight amount of progress,” Vergano said. “We need more, no question.”
Vergano was appointed mayor in 2008 when Assemblyman Scott Rumana stepped down to represent the 40th Legislative District. He was elected to his first full term in 2009.
Hutchison was Board of Education trustee for nine years. She is the associate director of instruction and research technology at William Paterson University. She’s lived in Wayne for 30 years.