Retiring Township Engineer/Planner Left His Mark All Over Town
Peter Messina leaving Thursday following more than 25 years planning and reviewing projects in Bernards Township.
Even if you don't know who Peter Messina is, you've seen the result of his professional handiwork everywhere around town.
Messina, employed as the township's engineer, planner and municipal sewerage authority administrator through Dec. 31, said he took the job of township engineer in November, 1978.
Even taking a break of a seven years, Messina said he will have logged more than 25 years of working in an ever-expanding role for Bernards Township before he retires at the end of 2010.
"It's been a great challenge and extremely rewarding to enter a town with 10,000 people and 3,000 homes, and now 28,000 people and 10,000 homes, and guide it through that process," Messina said.
"You have made the township a better place for residents," Mayor Scott Spitzer said at Tuesday night's Township Committee meeting, which was Messina's last in his role. Spitzer and other officials said Messina definitely has left his mark on the township.
Messina said he has been involved with the planning and implementation of the township's residential growth in the past three decades, and also with the township's efforts to preserve more than 700 acres of open space as well as preserving much of the English Farm in the Liberty Corner section.
"One of the reasons we have what we have for open space is because of Pete and his staff," said Deputy Mayor John Malay.
"I am extremely pleased with the way the township turned out," Messina said on Wednesday morning. "We could have ended up a much denser town because we have two major highways (Route 287 and 78) running through us," he said.
Even with the influx of thousands of units of multi-family housing since he came aboard, Messina said he believes the township has retained its small-town, semi-rural feel.
One of his major accomplishments, he said, was to urge the owner of the abandoned Chevrolet dealership in downtown Basking Ridge to sell the property for redevelopment. The store, Base Camp, now sits on the land occupied about a decade ago with the defunct dealership, Messina said.
Another worthwhile task, he said, was to coordinate cooperation between five property owners to create the municipal parking lot behind Base Camp, and across Maple Avenue from the Bernards Township. That lot really helped "spruce up" the downtown, Messina said.
Messina said he also had been involved with the beautification of the downtown through its walkways and antique-style light posts.
Throughout, Messina said his goal has been to preserve the quality of construction in the township, as well as keeping aesthetics in mind as a guiding principal.
"My philosophy is quality begets quality," Messina said. Shortly after he began working for the township in the 1980s, he said developers were "chomping at the bit" to build up the centrally-located community.
However, Messina said he always has tried to guide planning of even the densest community so they are "tucked away" behind open space. Communities such as Spring Ridge and even The Hills were kept off main roads, he said.
"That was deliberately done," Messina said. A driver along Somerville Road, Valley Road and other major thoroughfares will see trees and other greenery, rather than an urban landscape of housing, he said.
Messina said he worked for other companies from 1986 until returning to a job with the municipality in 1993. One of his other professional role was working for four years with The Hills Development Corp., he said.
Messina also took on the role of township planner and, later, as supervisor of the municipal sewerage authority. In that capacity, he planned the installation of about 5,000 solar panels that will provide power for the sewerage treatment plant and other anticipated income. True to his style, he said most of those panels will not be seen from public roads.
And this past year, the municipal engineering department has begun pitching in to provide some services for the township school district to save tax money overall.
Messina said he earns an annual salary of about $150,000 for his combined roles. After his departure, he said Tom Timko, now assistant township engineer, will be promoted to township engineer, and assistant planner David Schley is due to become township planner. He said he believes the township is at least searching for an assistant for Timko.