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Fort Lee Issues 2013: BOE, Development, Police

A look ahead at just a few of the many continuing local stories as we enter the new year.

Fort Lee Patch last week looked back on 2012, as we were nearing the end of the year, with the year in pictures, the year in review (January to June and July to December) and the most-read stories of the year.

Today, as we embark on a new year, we take a look forward at some of the local stories that are likely to play out in 2013:

Fort Lee Board of Education Challenges

The Fort Lee Board of Education will get right down to business in 2013 with a reorganization meeting scheduled for New Year’s Day at 1 p.m. and a host of issues to deal with.

Four new members of the board will be sworn in; Esther Han Silver, David Sarnoff and Holly Morell were elected to three-year terms in November and Candee Romba was elected to serve out the one-year, unexpired term of former board president Arthur Levine, who resigned in August 2012.

A look at what the board plans to discuss during a special private session on Jan. 1 sandwiched in between the re-org meeting and a special public business meeting provides a preview of just some of the issues the board faces in the coming year—among them “personnel matters, including the Superintendent of Schools.”

In June, the school board appointed Steven Engravalle Superintendent of Schools for three years in a 5-2 vote, also appointing Dr. Sharon Amato Assistant Superintendent of Schools through the end of the school year.

Then in November, the board approved a nearly two-month leave of absence for Engravalle for medical reasons and appointed Amato Interim Superintendent of Schools until Jan. 2, 2013.

Also in November Assistant Superintendent, Anti-Bullying Coordinator and Affirmative Action Officer Keith Lockwood abruptly resigned from the positions he had only served in since the beginning of the school year.

In the summer of 2013, the school district will also see work continue on what have come to be known locally as the “referendum projects,” or those approved by voters in January 2012.

Redevelopment Area 5 Progress

In January, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said that Fort Lee residents should “expect progress” on Redevelopment Area 5 in 2012, and “progress” there was.

After weeks of public hearings, the Fort Lee Planning Board in March unanimously approved Fort Lee Redevelopment Associates (FLRA)’s site plan for the East parcel of the long-vacant site. The plan included two 47-story towers with 902 luxury residential units, a 1.7-acre public park, a restaurant and a small movie theater, among other amenities.

Then the public hearing and approval process was repeated for the West parcel, culminating in Planning Board approval in June of Tucker Development Corporation’s mixed-use site plan, which includes more than 165,000 square feet of retail space, a 175-room hotel, about 477 residential units and parking for about 1,200 cars.

The developer of the eastern half of the 16-acre property held a groundbreaking ceremony for its $500 million development in October, but Sokolich said at the time that a similar event for the West parcel could still be months away.

The Mayor and Council in December passed a resolution settling a lawsuit and an ordinance financing the acquisition of land at 183 Main St., the current location of Woori Bank, for a park on the West parcel.

Many residents are eagerly waiting to learn what comes next, a question the mayor is likely to address at the governing body’s annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 3.

Fort Lee Police Department New Leadership

On Jan. 1, the new Chief and Deputy Chief of the Fort Lee Police Department will officially assume their duties, with now former Chief Thomas Ripoli retiring on Jan. 31.

Former Captains Keith Bendul and Timothy Ford were sworn in on Dec. 20, with Ripoli, who served as Chief since 2004, having reached the mandatory retirement age. The official appointment before Ripoli’s departure provided the opportunity for a transition period in the police department.

Bendul said he and Ford were “optimistic” about the future of the local police department.

“Tonight, I, along with every member of our department, begin the task of working together as a team and taking my vision for the department and putting that into action,” Bendul said at Borough Hall in December. “We plan to develop an organizational culture of ownership—one of personal responsibility and accountability. We will build on the best successes that [former] Chief Tessaro and Chief Ripoli have put in place, and we will continue to improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of our department.”

What do you think are going to be major issues in Fort Lee in 2013? Tell us in the comments section.

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