Berkeley Heights Officials Address 'Reverter Clause' in Little Flower Land Proposal Discussion

Resident Camille Aragona asks the Berkeley Heights Township Council about potential costs of a Little Flower "land swap." Credits: Bob Faszczewski

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - There is little likelihood that the township can use a reverter clause in the original purchase agreement for Little Flower Church to acquire the property as a site for a future municipal complex.

Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo said this was the conclusion reached by township officials after reviewing what little information is available in case law on the topic of reverter clauses.

Among other options being considered for upgrading of the municipal complex is a “land swap” of the site occupied by the current library with land currently owned by the church.

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The land under consideration previously was owned by the township. However, as a condition of its original sale to the church a “reverter clause” was included that said the land would automatically revert back to the township if it ceased being used for educational purposes.

Although Sordillo said there is little case law on the specific topic of reverter clauses, there seems to be enough language having to do with charitable organizations that use of the land for religious instruction, camps or even a Little League organization would prevent the reverter clause from going into effect.

Thus, although Little Flower has not operated an elementary school on the property for several years, the attorney said, the fact that it still conducts religious education classes on the site appears to exclude use of the reverter clause.

He also said it could mean that the parish could sell the land to another group that had the intention of continuing its educational purposes without having the reverter clause take effect.

According to Councilman Robert Woodruff, the township, at this point, has three options regarding the current municipal building: Demolish the current building and build a new one in its place; go through with the land swap and build a new municipal building on the property acquired from Little Flower or do nothing and have a future township council deal with the increased costs of maintaining the current deteriorating structure.

Responding to resident Camille Aragona of Chaucer Drive, he said although the council has discussed some costs of each of the options it is “not even close” to determining the final price tags.

Councilman Kevin Hall added the council will have to work with a number of professionals to determine the final costs.

Hall, however, said the township only has two options—demolition of the current building and its replacement on the current site or building of a new structure on the Little Flower site after a land swap.

Due to the large number of building code violations in the current structure, he added, the state probably will not allow the township to continue use of the current building until it is brought up to code.

Aragona said she did not think it was fair for Berkeley Heights taxpayers to foot the bill because municipal employees had not properly maintained the current municipal building over the years.

Woodruff replied that the current governing body could not be held responsible for what was not done 20 years ago. He said the council would get the costs of dealing with a structure on the current site and of erecting a new one on the Little Flower site.

Both Woodruff and Hall said, even though there are fewer employees in the current municipal building, figured into the costs of any work to be done would have to be the costs of moving municipal employees, including the police department, temporarily to another site while work is completed.

In another action at Tuesday’s meeting, the council introduced a $5 million bond ordinance for repair of the township’s roads.

Offiicials explained that a six-year plan has been mapped out with the township divided into 64 sectors of roads and each of the sectors will be done every few years so that each of the township’s roads will have a lifecycle of 15 years.

As the township repairs a section of the total number of roads to be done each year, bond anticipation notes will be issued to temporarily finance work on each section of work as it is completed.

The council also introduced a second, bond ordinance amounting to $783,550 to finance acquistion of a number of pieces of equipment and improvement of township facilities.

Items included are:

  • Weapons, computers and investigations equipment for the police department;
  • Public works equipment including stand-alone salter legs, a plate tamper and post driver;
  • Office of emergency management equipment including portable light towers and waterproof radio microphones;
  • Fire department equipment including turnout gear, a radiation bail out system  air packs, technical rescue jackets, vehicle air bags, pagers, a positive pressure fans and an ice machine;
  • Rescue squad equipemtn including a powere stretcher system; 
  • Administrative equipment, including a computer and server, records management, recording and communications equipment
  • Improvements in police department heating and air conditioning;
  • improvements to the sewer plant including pump station and sewer plant rehabilitation, pump replacements, sanitary sewer pipe rehabilitation and sanitary sewer manhole rehabilitation;
  • Improvements to the fire department systems and facilities, including a fire suppression system, air conditioning units, bay heaters and an emergency generator system;
  • Acquistion of sport utility vehicles and related equipment for the police department;
  • Acquisition of a roller and trailer, a street sweeper and a hot box; and
  • Acquisition of a box trailer.

Public hearings and possible final adoptions of both bond ordinances are scheduled for Tuesday, August 12.

The council also voted to reject all bids for reconstruction of Glenside Road because financing is not yet in place for the project. The project is scheduled for re-bidding in 2015.

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