NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Tensions ran high in the auditorium of Paul Robeson Elementary School at last night's meeting of the Fulton Square Condominium Association, the first since a man was accidentally killed in his home by a bullet not intended for him on May 4.
Over 50 residents of the Fulton Square neighborhood attended the complicated meeting which included the first (sort of) public explanation of why the "gated" community's gates have been broken or left open pretty much ever since the community opened five years ago.
At the meeting, the board of the homeowner's association conducted elections for two new board members. One of the candidates on the ballot, Richard Chang, was killed in his home by a stray bullet, or perhaps a rifle round, as we reported last week.
"He was a friend of mine, a caring guy, the nicest, most friendliest guy," said a Brian, a neighbor who asked that his last name not be published.
Brian said that Chang, a married contractor, made "a decent living like everyone here."
"I want everybody to realize that the best way to get through this process is to be better neighbors," he said in his remarks, which were followed by applause.
New Brunswick Police Detective Daniel DiStefano told residents that the investigation into Chang's killing was "going well," but admitted he had to keep quiet about most aspects because the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office was the lead agency.
"I am hopeful it will come to a conclusion soon… I believe it's an isolated incident, but I can't tell you why I think it is."
"At some point, hopefully soon, there's going to be an arrest made… All's I can tell you we're making a lot of progress." said DiStefano.
"We know it was drug related. Why hide it?" yelled out one woman in the audience.
"I'm not sure that was the case in this case," DiStefano responded.
Detective Harry Hudson, a community liason for the department's Community Outreach Bureau encouraged residents at the meeting not to hesitate to call police to report suspicious activity.
"What we need is people to, you know, help us out… We work for you guys," he said.
Antoine Johnson, a leuitenant for the New Brunswick Parking Authority who lives in the Fulton Square community, said he and his family was shaken by the tragedy, but he still loved his neighborhood.
"That scared all of us… But the building I live in, I got great neighbors. We all look out for each other."
Approximately a year and a half ago, the condo association hired Midlantic Property Management to manage the community.
"There was a problem with those gates from the beginning. They were poorly done by the developer," said Jim Polos, a Middlesex County Freeholder who owns and runs Midlantic.
Prior to last night, Polos had not commented publicly on the shooting, and did not return a phone message seeking comment at Midlantic's office in Highland Park last week.
He said at last night's meeting that his firm was working hard to help make the Fulton Square community safer, but that the gate problem still had not been fixed.
"We had been told that the gates would have been done today… As of Monday the gates are going to be locked," he told the roomful of residents, citing delays for a multitude of reasons and blaming developer Edgewood Properties for installing "inferior" gates.
A resident who lived in Fulton Square since it opened in 2007 said that she estimated the gates had been functional for about 6% of the time she lived in the community.
Among the reasons for the delay cited by Polos were debates amongst the association between the alternatives of hiring security guards to work the entrances, and either investing in new gates or improving the old ones.
He also said there were delays associated with hiring a contractor and the permitting process through the City of New Brunswick.
The 209-unit condominium complex is in the process of "transition" where the developer hands over control of the community to the elected board of the homeowner's association.
Holly Bryant, the secretary of the homeowner's association said her and the rest of the board were "appointed one-by-one" as the developer sold the remaining units.
The old gates were easily broken and ineffective, Polos admitted under a barrage of complaints and questions about the length of time it's taken to install the new gates.
"[The original gates] met the city specification for construction, yes," he said, adding his firm worked hard to find qualified experts who could vouch that they were insufficient. "In their opinion, it's an inferior product," he said of Becht Engineering, a firm hired by the homeowner's association.
"I didn't build your place," Polos said in response to a complaint about water pipes breaking in the condos. "There's a laundry list of engineering deficiencies."
Three years ago, pipes began bursting in the 13-building complex according to residents, with six incidents so far. Polos said they had tracked down the manufacturer of a faulty part and begun to work on a plan to replace them throughout the community.
The new gates will be "a much heavier-duty, commercial-grade system" that uses magnetic locks and will have sixteen high-resolution cameras pointed at them, according to Polos.
"The original cameras that were put in years ago were crap," said the Freeholder, adding the new cameras will be monitored by the New Brunswick Police Department, and "can also be monitored by the board."
Polos said residents and visitors would have a new method to get through the new gates: electronic keys referred to as "fobs."
"No one is going to have a code. You had a lot of complaints that the access codes were being given to the Domino's Pizza guy, the taxi driver, the neighbors who wanted to cut through," said Polos.
Visitors will only be able to enter from the Commercial Avenue entrance that will ring residents on their telephone number of choice once the gates are finally installed.
Polos also said license plate readers would be installed, as well as speed humps, and 5-mph speed limits signs on the private roads that make up the neighborhood.
Still, Polos stressed even the most sturdy gates would not have kept anyone out who wanted to enter the community:
"Somebody can easily jump over the fences. People can get in. These gates are just a deterrent."
In response to a question, he said functional gates wouldn't have prevented Mr. Chang's death.
"In this tragic incident, the perpetrator jumped the fence so the gates wouldn't have helped," he said.
During the second hour of the meeting, Freeholder Polos quietly asked the author of this article if he was a resident of the Fulton Square community, before asking him to leave. After acknowledging it would be the board's decision, Polos stopped the proceedings to ask the board whether they wanted the author of this article to leave the auditorium.
Commotion ensued as Polos lost control of the meeting and residents began to talk over one another while the board discussed the issue, and at least one member of the board unsuccessfully demanded that NewBrunswickToday.com hand over notes taken during the meeting.
Before the board could decide, Ramon DeLeon, an officer on the board who refused to give his name or title, forceably escorted the author of this article from out of the school.
Perhaps taking Detective Hudson's request for crime tips too far, DeLeon later called city police when the author of this article refused to delete photographs of the meeting taken with his mobile phone.
Two New Brunswick officers in separate vehicles reported to the scene and left after speaking with both parties at 8:54pm.
Then, after a lengthy huddle with the association's board, Polos agreed to speak to NewBrunswickToday.com.
Polos clarified that the homeowners' association meeting was "private" and that he felt it was his "duty" to inform the board of the presence of a reporter. He apologized for DeLeon's behavior as well.
He declined to speak about Edgewood Properties, the developer who built and sold the units, referring all questions to the board.
That company is owned by Jack Morris, a prolific donor to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, which has supported Polos in every election cycle since 1998 for the Freeholder position, the highest elected office in county government. Polos is running for re-election this November.
Morris is a business partner of former New Brunswick Mayor John Lynch Jr., who recently served a jail sentence on corruption charges.
Edgewood is also behind the Walgreen's "Town Centre" development that has stalled at the intersection of Handy Street and Jersey Avenue. As we reported last month, much of that project remains unfinished nearly a decade after it started.
Morris' company, based in Piscataway, is currently planning a mixed-use development for the parking lot behind the AMC movie theater on Route 1, and recieved approvals from the city government last year.
Editor's Note: NewBrunswickToday.com was invited to attend the meeting by a Fulton Square resident who felt it would be a worthwhile follow-up story to our prior coverage of Mr. Chang's tragic death.