First Selectman Jim Zeoli, born-and-bred in Orange, has guided this town for close to ten years now, and this fall he is seeking his sixth term. Several important development projects have come to fruition over the course of the last two years, opening the prospect for economic expansion and, eventually, an increased tax base.
His biggest priority, he said in a phone interview, is to balance quality of life with fiscal responsibility. He is seeking to provide services to a wide range of residents, “in a manner that doesn’t overly impact the well-being of any group of residents”. “It’s a balancing act,” he added.
Continue Infrastructure Improvements: Developing Fred Wolfe Park is one of the first things he mentioned. The Park and Recreation Commission has adopted a master plan for the 64-acre parcel. In addition to the already existing soccer fields the Commission is planning to add lacrosse fields. Zeoli said if possible, the town would add a second entrance and additional parking, so as to alleviate the traffic congestion on Hollow Road. Future projects for the park include a running/walking track and a dog park, also bathroom facilities and storage.
Community Center: The remodeling project of the south wing at High Plains Community Center is getting back on track after it had “hit some bump in the road,” he said. In the meantime, the reconstruction and paving of the parking lot has been worked on this summer. Infrastructure, road and bridge repairs are also on his to-do list.
Education: Schools are the best that they can be Zeoli said. But the town “needs to keep an eye” on the management, he said. After all, between the local and the regional boards of education, education draws 63% of the town’s budget.
ShopRite: Residents welcomed the recent news that Harry Garafalo will open a ShopRite at the former Stop and Shop location on Bull Hill Lane. “The residents of Orange have been waiting for a new supermarket to come to the community,” Zeoli wrote in a press release at the time. “We’ve been working hard to bring an excellent operator like ShopRite and the Garafalo family to that location. This full-service supermarket will be a great addition to the town.”
Transit Oriented District: A private entity called Orange Land Development, LLC, under the leadership of former Dichello Distributors CEO Ed Crowley, has purchased a 13-acre parcel from the beer distributor for development of a “Transit oriented district”. The anchor of this district will be an Orange train station, with a mix of residential, retail and commercial properties around it. It would also provide a parking garage, as parking is often short at the Milford and West Haven train stations.
Zeoli said since this is a private enterprise, the town is not involved in the financing of it. However, the project cannot proceed until the State electrifies the railway and builds the platform, Zeoli wrote on the GOP website, orangectrepublicans.com. He promised that the town will “work with the developer to advance this project”. A groundbreaking may be as early as the spring of 2016.
Office Building: Another chip in Zeoli’s cap was the announcement this summer that Shelton developer Robert Scinto is planning to build a four-story, 80,000 square foot glass office building on the former Stew Leonard’s site. The town has welcomed the project as appropriate for this space, and helped usher it through the permitting process. The building will serve as corporate headquarters, Zeoli said, although the company is not officially named yet.
Republican Town Committee Chairman Nancy Nastri said the feedback they are getting from the GOP under-ticket candidates when they go door-to-door is overwhelmingly positive. “People are satisfied with the way things are running,” she said. She said their campaign was not going to engage in negative attack ads, just “straightforward leadership”.
Residents who want to talk to the Republican candidates, including Jim Zeoli, can meet them at Republican headquarters in the former Racebrook Market at the intersection of Racebrook Road and Boston Post Road. There will also be two public debates between the two candidates for first selectman, one on Sunday, October 11 at 10 a.m. at Congregation Or Shalom; the debate sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce will take place Monday, October 26, at 7 p.m. at the High Plains Community Center.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondant