The top stories of the year

What happened in Mantua in 2023

JOSEPH METZ/The Sun
Robert Zimmerman was sworn in as Mantua’s new mayor by his daughter Ashley in January. He also served on the school district’s board of education.

A lot happened in Mantua during 2023 that will affect the community for years to come, including a new mayor and a proposed rail line that voters unanimously rejected in a Nov. 7 ballot question.

The new mayor

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The year kicked off with a major change in leadership for the township committee at its reorganization meeting on Jan. 2. Robert Zimmerman, deputy mayor for seven years, was appointed mayor. He replaced Pete Scirrotto, who remains on the committee in Zimmerman’s former role.

The new mayor was also a veteran of the school district board of education, serving from 2003 to 2008 as both president and vice president.

“I feel like we’re going into a new era and it’s very exciting for our town,” said committeewoman Eileen Lukens of the new administration. “We have such a great town and I’m looking forward to everything that 2023 has to offer.”

“Everything that Bob (Zimmerman) does, he does well,” noted Scirrotto. “I’m sure he will lead our town well.”

One of the things Zimmerman focused on in the past year was effective communication with the people of Mantua. That led to the creation of his weekly mayor’s message – published in the Mantua Sun – in which he discusses happenings around town.

““We will continue to work hard for the residents of Mantua Township and continue to make the tough decisions that are in the best interest for the community as a whole,” Zimmerman promised. “We are proud to toe the line without any total tax increases locally here for the past two years.

“We’ll continue to explore new opportunities in an effort to better serve residents, while continuing to tighten the belt for property taxes in 2023.”

Chestnut Branch Park additions

Chestnut Branch Park, a major hub for both residents and activities in Mantua, saw a number of new additions in 2023, including new state-of-the-art trash cans, handicapped accessible picnic tables and a 50 acre, nine-hole disc golf course that opened on Oct. 14.

The course – called Tornado Crossing – is expected to have 18 holes in the future. It was the creation of two residents, Jim Kiel and Jason Moore, who provided the manpower for the construction and volunteered their own time to work on it. The township provided building materials.

“From our eyes, it was a win-win, for that area had been sitting vacant for many years,” Mayor Zimmerman noted. “We’re truly appreciative of their efforts. Jim, I believe, put in 200 hours of work, while Jason put in 700 hours. They’re both avid disc golf players.”

One of the reasons the committee put a major focus on Chestnut Branch Park is that it serves as a downtown area for Mantua, something the community lacks.

“As part of our mayor’s message videos, we have been focusing on the many wonderful people, places and things that make Mantua such an incredible place to live and raise our families,” Zimmerman noted. “Our goal is to tell our story and to get our community more educated, engaged and involved.

“How could we not include Chestnut Branch as a main focal point?”

“Mantua Township is very near and dear to my heart, and so is this park,” said Committeewoman Eileen Lukens. “It’s an absolutely beautiful place where all our residents and guests can come and enjoy the festivities. It’s something that we’re very proud of, and I’m grateful that we have it.”

No on the GCL

One of the major issues prevalent in Mantua in 2023 remained the Glassboro Camden Line (GCL), a light-rail transit train proposed by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) to take riders from Glassboro to Camden.

After several residents gathered enough signatures for a petition against the GCL, the township committee created a resolution to put the question to a vote on the Nov. 7 election ballot. Once the election results were certified on Nov. 27, they showed that a majority of Mantua voters – 3,424 out of 5,002 – said no to the GCL.

“It’s a methodical process that we’ll do moving forward,” Zimmerman explained just after the election. “In simplistic terms, we have to wait until the results of the election are certified. We’re not going to do a resolution until the results are certified.”

Some opponents of the rail line formed a Facebook group, No to GCL, and also presented the original petition against the GCL to the committee. Two of the group’s leaders are Antonio Alveario and Charles Hughes.

“We of the No to GCL have told you all along that in the municipality, the majority of people were against the GCL,” Alveario maintained. “We proved it not just in one area; we went all over the place.

“There was never a doubt in our minds … that you guys were gonna honor the results of the vote.”

The committee passed an official resolution opposing the rail project – now in its engineering phase – at its Dec. 15 meeting.

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