LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Department of Public Works (DPW) will have a new home on Industrial Parkway, opening up a space on S. Livingston Avenue, after the Township of Livingston adopted an ordinance on Monday to authorize the acquisition of the block for the purpose of relocating the DPW.
The land being acquired on Industrial Parkway, which is situated parallel to Route 10 in Livingston, is currently an overgrown grassland area located near the Brendan P. Tevlin Field/Okner Sports Complex. The council believes this property will also be large enough to house the public school busses that are currently being parked in multiple locations throughout the township.
As the DPW’s primary function is to maintain municipal roads, curbs, storm drains and shade trees, the governing body feels that its employees are some of the hardest working people in Livingston. After several years of discussion as to whether the township should renovate the current DPW facility on S. Livingston Avenue or to acquire land for a new building, the township ultimately decided it was time to provide the DPW with the state-of-the-art facility it deserves in an area that is less visible to the public.
“This looks like an ideal site for the DPW,” said Mayor Al Anthony. “Our DPW workers are some of the hardest-working people in town. They keep us safe, they do a fantastic job—we hear that over and over and over again not only within this town, but from outside of this town—and they deserve a new building. By moving it to that location, we also free up a spot on S. Livingston Avenue. I think it’s an investment in the future and I think it’s a great move.”
In addition to forming a committee to assist in finding suitable locations for the new facility, the township also hired a township manager who was able to look at the project from a fresh perspective in order to make an informed decision.
Although the vote was unanimous for this particular location, there were still some who felt there were better options on the table. Resident Bernard Searle, a former member of the committee charged with brainstorming locations for the DPW, addressed some of his concerns prior to the council vote.
Following praise from fellow resident Robert Hunter, who was glad to see the council voting on a location that is off a main road and commended the council for coming to a conclusion on a project that he described as “a monster,” Searle disagreed, stating that relocating the DPW to a road that is off a state highway is ill-advised.
"I've lived here consistently since 1975, and I find Route 10 to be a nightmare,” he said. “I feel that the State of New Jersey has made no effort to improve Route 10, especially at the circle...I'm just concerned that we have a lot of facilities that are centrally located and the efficiency is actually very high, so I'm just wondering whether this is [being voted on] without really any discussion…
“A lot of the facilities that we currently have […] are still located so that if there’s a project that needs to be taken care of immediately, you're not held hostage—depending upon the weather and traffic, etcetera—by being at the very far end of a state highway.”
Referencing some of the other locations that were presented as options, Searle said he felt the council was “falling short by selecting a site before presenting it to the public and explaining how we got to this choice and what the other options are.”
“There are also other pieces of property in town that I feel we should have looked at, but we didn’t; stuff that’s not on the outskirts of town,” said Searle, who mentioned a 50-acre parcel with a 50,000-square-foot building at the end of Peach Tree Road and another parcel of land near the East Orange Water Reserve.
In response to a statement from Searle that accused that the council of being “short-sighted” by voting on this location, Councilman Ed Meinhardt chimed in to explain why the council is doing just the opposite.
“The committee selected a property originally that was barely big enough to put on the DPW and not nearly big enough to aid another major issue in town, which this council has looked at a lot to help our neighbors across the street, the board of education, with the busses,” said Meinhardt. “This property is big enough so that the busses that are now parked in three separate locations and the residents of those areas who are complaining about them…those busses are going to be able to find a new home at this property as well.
“So, not only did we not short-sight this, I actually would take the opposite side of you and say that I actually think we looked 10, 20, 30 years down the pike, which is what every good governing body should be doing and not short-sighting this. I really resent when you say ‘the short-sightedness of this committee.’”
Fellow council member Shawn Klein addressed some of the issues that were found with the other properties presented to the council as options. The location near the East Orange Water Reserve, for instance, is on wetlands that could not possibly also hold the salt dome needed for the DPW to properly maintain the streets during winter months, he said.
“This is a very well-built town at this point; there’s not a lot of parcels that were available to consider,” said Klein, adding that every parcel evaluated by the committee had a viable reason why it would not have worked. “It came down to picking the best one that suits the most purposes the best that it can out of all the properties that we could…When you look at all of the properties that were available, this is clearly the best property that’s available. We did our homework.”
Also in attendance to answer questions was Jarrid Kantor of Antonelli Kantor, the firm retained by Livingston Township to handle the Eminent Domain procedure that was also authorized as part of the ordinance adopted on Monday.
Although he could disclose much in public sector, he explained that Monday’s vote authorizes the process to conduct a “good faith negotiation” with the owners of the property. According to Kantor, an offer has been made on the property based on an appraisal that was based on comparables among other items in order to fulfill all of the legal obligations involved.
The firm has now been authorized to file a complaint on behalf of the township in order to show cause, or to request that the court deem the property to be “a public purpose” so that the township has a right to take the property, he explained.
Once the court deems the land as being needed for a public purpose, the next step in the process is an evaluation to determine whether the township will become the new owner of the property.
“[The DPW building] has been a problem that’s been talked about for decades,” said Anthony as he voted in favor of moving forward. “I think this council and my friends and colleagues up here are doing the best to solve it and give our hardworking DPW the best facility they could have.”
Kantor estimated that it would be another 90-to-120 days before township becomes the official owner.
Township Manager Barry Lewis explained that once the township becomes the owner, the governing body can proceed with design, development and construction.