Six candidates are vying for three Robbinsville Township Council seats. Incumbents Chris Ciaccio, Dan Schuberth and Ronald Witt face challengers Roland Allen, Paul Kranz and Rakhi Upadhyay.
Roland Allen, 38, has lived in Robbinsville since 2007. He grew up in Hamilton. He attended the Northeast Carpenters Apprentice Training program and is a union carpenter out of UBC Local 254. Allen was previously elected to the Mercer County Democratic Committee as a Robbinsville District 1 representative in 2017. His two children attend Sharon Elementary School and Pond Road Middle School.
Chris Ciaccio, 62, has lived in Robbinsville with her husband, Tom, since 1980. Her children, Tony and Dawn, both went through the Robbinsville school system, and her grandson, Anthony, is currently a student at Sharon Elementary School. Ciaccio grew up in Hamilton and earned an associate’s degree from Trenton State College in elementary education. She and her husband own Tony’s Farm and Garden Center in Windsor. Ciaccio has been a councilwoman since 2007, and she was appointed to the Zoning Board in 1988. She has served as the president of the Sharon School PTA and taught catechism at Saint Gregory the Great.
Paul Kranz, 39, has lived in Robbinsville since 2012. He was born on an Air Force base in Anchorage, Alaska, and has previously lived in Washington, D.C., Texas, Florida, Boston, Copenhagen and New York City. He graduated earned a bachelor’s in international business from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master’s in management of innovation and business development from Copenhagen Business School. He currently works as a sales executive at IBM. Kranz has previously served on the Robbinsville Township Planning Board and Environmental Commission.
Dan Schuberth, 35, has lived in Robbinsville with his wife Natalie since 2010. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where earned a degree in government and legal studies. He also earned masters degrees in organizational dynamics and public administration from the University of Pennsylvania. He currently works as the regional human resource manager at McMaster-Carr. He has been a councilman since 2015. Schuberth has previously served as chairman of Robbinsville’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and as board president of NAMI-Mercer.
Rakhi Upadhyay, 36, has lived with her daughter, a Pond Road Middle School student, in Robbinsville for two and a half years. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in history. She also completed master of arts in history and master of public administration degrees at Rutgers University, where she studied affordable housing. Upadhyay currently works as a housing inspector. This is her first time running for office.
Ronald Witt, 52, has lived in Robbinsville with his wife, Maureen, since 1998. They have three children: Hannah, Cameron and Devon. He grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and attended Chestnut Hill Academy. He went on to graduate from Drexel University with a degree in marketing. Witt is the president and CEO of Sweetwater Construction. He has been a Robbinsville Township councilman since 2011, and he previously served on the township’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board.
The Robbinsville Advance sent the candidates the same four questions. They had one week to respond. The questions and the candidates answers are below:
Question 1: Foxmoor Shopping Center has been struggling for years. What is your vision for the center? What do you think can be done to revive it?
Allen: My vision for the center is to return it to the thriving state that it was in when I moved to Robbinsville. I think a different approach needs to be taken and different ideas need to be put on the table. The grocery store is gone and wishing to bring one back has not worked and the space stands empty while we wish for something that is not coming. The space could be used for many other uses such as an indoor farmers market (similar to The Trenton Farmers Market), a teen center, or even broken up into smaller spaces for offices.
Ciaccio: Many residents have been asking for a local grocery store and I am glad to see Penmark Management currently in charge. I have always been a firm proponent of “thinking outside the box.” We need to make the property a destination, so I believe ideas such as Car Show Cruise nights and Food Trucks will add excitement. Indoor sports centers and specialty restaurants will also help to build momentum as well.
Kranz: My vision would be a center at 100 percent occupancy with a direct entrance/exit from Route 33. In June 2016, a township-sponsored study concluded the center was in a “death spiral.” As a Planning Board member, I voted for condemnation of the center, which paved the way for new ownership. As a town councilman, I will ensure Pennmark Management and our Economic Development Advisory Committee have the support and resources needed to fulfill this vision.
Schuberth: As a former Foxmoor and current TC resident, revitalizing the center remains my top economic development priority. Councilman Cipriano and I lead the Foxmoor Redevelopment Committee, where we support new owner Pennmark Management’s efforts to attract top quality businesses. Residents can expect a brand-new façade, exciting new businesses in the smaller spaces, and with luck, a boutique grocer in the anchor space. Food truck events will attract business while we work to achieve this plan.
Upadhyay: I prefer to shop local. We need a shopping center where we could pick up groceries, food and clothing, or have more options for restaurants and maybe even a bar or lounge. Foxmoor’s management are working toward finding a business that’s the right fit for the community. Businesses thrive on demand and patrons will determine what works. I want to see businesses come in and try to succeed than see empty storefronts.
Witt: The center is has degraded since the Thriftway closed. Many important local businesses stayed put with the hope that another anchor tenant would return. As we know, this did not occur. Council commissioned a redevelopment study and determined the plaza met the redevelopment criteria. The center is under new ownership and we are working with them to revitalize the center. Five new businesses have come on line and a facade renovation is in the works.
Question 2: Robbinsville has met its requirement to provide for state mandated affordable housing, but there are many people who have incomes that are too high to qualify, yet can’t afford most of the market-rate housing that is available in town. Do you think the municipality has a responsibility to zone for housing (such as non–luxury apartments and condos) that these people can afford?
Allen: I believe that the township has a good mix of housing options ranging from the condominiums in Foxmoor, the new units being built in Town Center South, homes in Springside on Gordon Road, all the way up to the larger homes in Cubberly Meadows. I do not think this is a zoning issue, but more of a market issue; if there is a demand in Robbinsville for a type of home it will be built.
Ciaccio: I think Robbinsville Township has an obligation to promote options for all walks of life and situations. That is what makes our community great. We provide other inclusive and accessible options in addition to affordable housing which makes everyone feel welcome.
Kranz: At over 1,000 students, Sharon is the largest elementary school in Mercer County. It would be irresponsible to encourage additional residential development under the current circumstances. While going door-to-door meeting voters, I’ve seen the variety of mobile homes, condos, townhouses and single-family homes we have to offer, and I am satisfied we are catering to a large range of homebuyers.
Schuberth: As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to make living in Robbinsville more affordable for both current and future residents. Adding additional housing would increase the cost of government services and add burden onto our thriving school district. Instead, we need to continue to lower our property tax burden, as we’ve done in each of the past four years. Lower property taxes allow long-time residents to remain in town and new residents to move in.
Upadhyay: I have studied affordable housing extensively and currently work in the field. I have seen firsthand how government intervention could make housing more affordable and accessible. There are many families like mine, who have a dream to own a home, but struggle to achieve this goal. Municipalities should engage in this conversation, but we should also look upwards at federal initiatives for policies and legislations to help hard working families who have these goals.
Witt: Robbinsville was the only town in Mercer County to receive Phase 3 affordable housing approval under the Christie Administration and was one of the first towns to secure approval of new affordable housing obligations with Fair Share Housing. In addition, we acquired the mobile home park which provides an affordable place to live. As a result, we have a residential growth vision which limits further overcrowding of our schools and continues our affordable housing commitment.
Question 3: What kind of plans do you envision for development along Route 130?
Allen: My vision for the Route 130 corridor development is a slow growth approach that takes into account the future needs of the township, current infrastructure, traffic and population. Growing too quickly and without proper planning can cause major issues. A well thought out approach is what we need now.
Ciaccio: I am happy that we are finally seeing change on Route 130. The BAPS Temple is attracting visitors from all over and is a major tourist attraction. I would like to see a hotel with a conference center and wedding venue that would help add local jobs to our community. Our town is allowed to collect a housing tax on each hotel room so that would also help our community.
Kranz: I would discourage additional residential development in the 130 corridor. Instead I envision a collection of commercial businesses, amenities, bike trails and protected green spaces that directly improve the lifestyles of our residents. First, I would like to increase occupancy rates at our existing commercial properties (Foxmoor for instance) before we destroy our limited green spaces to construct empty strip malls.
Schuberth: Route 130 will be the heart of commercial activity in Robbinsville, generating revenue that helps us continue reducing property taxes and providing residents with exciting places to eat, shop, and relax. The township council recently completed an economic development study designed to make it easier for businesses to open up along the corridor. We’re excited to welcome Wawa and Robbinsville Grill & Bar to town, and envision additional retail and dining establishments on the horizon.
Upadhyay: Redevelopment along Route 130 needs to be closely examined to ensure growth is properly managed. Traffic is a major concern, and a redeveloped Route 130 cannot be allowed to change the mobility of the town. As it is we are struggling with traffic in Town Center. We must carefully assess all development to ensure our residents’ quality of life is maintained.
Witt: Route 130 is a vital gateway to Robbinsville. Current activity includes construction of a car dealership and expansion of a martial arts business. Wawa and Robbinsville Grill & Bar will be opening in 2020. This is a nice start but there are many other undeveloped parcels. Council recently completed a redevelopment study of this corridor and the results are being are digested. If redevelopment tools can be utilized, additional retail/commercial growth should result.
Question 4: Why should Robbinsville residents vote for you?
Allen: I am a resident and only a resident. I have nothing to gain from this position other than to better the town for residents. I hope to keep Robbinsville the town that made us all move here.
Ciaccio: I think Robbinsville Township is a wonderful and inclusive community. The love and compassion we have for our neighbors is nothing short of amazing. I would like to bring in more business ratables to reduce taxes, continue to preserve open space and protect our historic hamlets in our township. It is so important that we continue to make Robbinsville affordable for our children to live here and raise their children here.
Kranz: I am qualified. I’ve served in the township government since 2015 and have an intimate understanding of the challenges we’re facing. I have ideas. We can increase transparency by creating a Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee and scrutinizing PILOTs. We can improve our commitment to sustainability by recertifying for Sustainable Jersey, protecting open space, and creating additional bike paths. Ours is a wonderfully diverse community. We can recruit residents from underrepresented groups to serve in government.
Schuberth: During my past four years on the township council, I’ve developed meaningful connections with residents from every corner of our community. I’ve listened with humility, offered support when folks are in need, and tried my best to exemplify servant leadership through volunteer work. My phone is always on for residents (cell 732-585-3010) and it will remain on during the next four years. You have my commitment to serve you to the best of my ability.
Upadhyay: I have a strong background in government administration, a MPA, and knowledge of affordable housing (especially useful with the acquisition of the mobile park). I am qualified and also incredibly diverse. I bring a new and unique perspective that the town council has never seen: I am a renter, a single mother, a woman of color and I’m a one-income household. The changing demographics of our town should be reflected in the governing body.
Witt: I work hard for Robbinsville residents. It has been a privilege to serve them. I have met many tremendous people and I enjoy advocating for others. As the leader of a successful business, I employ these same skill sets to ensure our town is run efficiently and effectively. While on Council, we have reduced taxes, preserved open space, and been fiscally responsible. I would like nothing more than to continue this mission for another four years.