On Tuesday, December 6th the Berkeley Heights Township Council will be deciding the fate of the Berkeley Aquatic Center's proposal to erect a multi-acre facility directly adjacent to one of our most precious sections of the community. The Council seems determined to act on the measure as soon as the meeting begins at 7PM, so if you wish to voice your opinion on this critical issue you will want to get there early.
The Council's decision to review and make a decision on whether to amend our Sewer Agreement with Warren Township - the sticking point in preventing the BAC's proposal from going forward - will come as a complete surprise to anyone who followed the 2011 campaign for Township Council.
At the October 25th debate Councilman Robert Woodruff and his running mate (who will not be voting on this matter) stated that they needed time to investigate all sides of the issue before taking any position. They made it clear that, in their opinion, a lot of time and listening needed to take place before they could comment on the BAC issue. The only clue as to their position came from Councilwoman-elect Kingsley when she said we needed to weigh the building's tax revenue against the well-being of the residents.
That was 6 weeks ago. Now, at the first meeting the issue will be formally discussed, Mr. Woodruff and his colleagues will be voting on amending the Sewer Agreement at the Council meeting. Furthermore, the Council agenda lists the vote as a "Conference Item", meaning that the public would normally not be allowed to comment on the issue until after the decision has already been reached. It may be that the Council will allow the public to speak; certainly the developer will get his say in full.
For several months, hundreds of Berkeley Heights residents have flocked to meetings in Warren to protest this new development. Extensive hearings have been held on the pros and cons of the issue, but not a single Councilman from Berkeley Heights has attended them. Having read the evidence and talked with many residents in the affected parts of our community, I spoke out against the proposed relocation and its harmful side effects. While I cannot attend the meeting, I urge every resident concerned about the harms of this project and the rush to judgment of our Council to come and speak out.
Councilman Pirone has already indicated his opposition to the amendment. I thank him for his principled stance for our community. To the best of my knowledge the other Councilmembers have not commented to date. I ask them the following:
Mr. Delia: You were elected on a platform of speaking out for the "little guy" in town, not the Republican Party line. Will you be an independent voice once again and vote No?
Mr. Pastore and Mr. Hall: You campaigned on transparency and honest government in 2009, and are up for reelection in 2012. Will you live up to your promise and give a fair, transparent hearing that gives both sides an equal voice on the issue?
Mr. Woodruff: You are an attorney with a reptuation for prudence and long-term planning. Would you make a rash decision based on the evidence from one meeting, and not consider the long-term health of our community? Or was your "we need time" statement just campaign rhetoric?
Lastly, to retiring Councilwoman Elaine Perna: You have served Berkeley Heights for 9 years, and were a principled voice of opposition when the Council took actions contrary to the well-being of the public. This will certainly be the last significant piece of legislation you will vote on. How do you want to be remembered as a Councilwoman? As someone who stood with the people when it mattered most, or with her club of inter-connected insiders?
4 of the 6 Councilmembers must stand together to vote No in order to guarantee the rejection of the proposal. While Mayor Bruno could break a 3-3 tie by voting No, it is better that the Council take an unambigous stance in this matter.
I call on this all-Republican Council to take an all-Berkeley Heights action and not vote to push the BAC project into being. It is entirely up to them as to whether they hurt our residents by letting the project go forward.
We, the public, should hold them accountable for their decision.
Note: Mr. Yellin, while an elected official within the Democratic Party, is speaking solely for himself in this letter