Updated July 10, 2014 at 8:44 p.m.
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - This week's Township Council meeting drew a larger than usual crowd to the Municipal Complex Tuesday evening. A Resolution was voted on authorizing the Memorandum of Understanding between the Township of Berkeley Heights and the Church of the Little Flower for the exchange of land known as the "Library Property" and the "Little Flower Property."
The intent of this memorandum is the "first step" to proceed with community discussions regarding the opportunity of the "land swap" and the impact it has to the community said Councilman Kevin Hall. It has been determined that the land was available to gain access, and the memorandum has been created to provide contingencies allowing the township the ability to "take a step back" if the "land swap" doesn't make sense.
The land swap addresses many infrastructure issues that the township has not been able to address over the past 10 years due to economics, Hall explained.
Hall continued that they want the flexibility to act in good faith and open the dialog. "We want to seriously entertain this land swap and investigate for the community. Little Flower has agreed with this flexibility," said Hall.
Hall identified examples of possible contingencies that are included in the memorandum -- the agreement with the library for the utilization of the statutory millage and sharing budget dollars; issues of litigations; and other due diligence. "All of these are contained in this agreement. We are dealing in good faith and we want to move forward and investigate for the community."
Hall explained that there will be a range of public hearings that will talk about the framework regarding each of the specific items involved. One of the hearings will relate specifically to the dialog between the Township and the Little Flower parish and the evaluation of each of these properties. There will be a complete discussion of what was the overall methodology and how they came up with the conclusion of the fair value of the deal.
It is an understanding that this memorandum is not a contract but merely the understanding to proceed.
Resident Tom Foregger approached the council regarding discrepancies in the two appraisal reports and wanted the opportunity to discuss prior to the vote that would lock in the $2.8 million difference between the value of the "Library Property" and the "Little Flower Church Property". Foregger stated that this is the appropriate time to ask if this is the right number - if the evaluations are correct. "There are significant differences with the two evaluations that were used to come up with the $2.8 differences," said Foregger.
Hall responded stating there is a difference in logical approaches used in appraisals. "There are different definitions and subsequent dialog between the appraisers and an agreement of what to use. This will be discussed openly and completely during the public hearings in the future," said Hall.
A specific methodology used in the appraisal process was followed. "We have to follow specific methods to come to a conclusion on behalf of the community. We feel very confident that this number can be defended openly," said Hall.
Resident Carol Matula has objected to the "Land Swap" and is in current litigation with the township. Her primary objection is that the majority of the members of the council have close connections to the Little Flower Church, including Council President Jeanne Kingsley who Matula stated has held an officer position with the church while the negotiations were moving forward.
Matula brought up the reverter clause that states that there is very limited use of the church property. The only people that can use this land are people that want to use the land for educational institution purposes. "Given the small number of people that would ever want to use that land, it limits the marketability," said Matula. "There is no way that the lot is worth anywhere near the $4 million." She further discussed her dissent of the agreed upon appraisal value.
Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo asked the council not to comment due to current litigation.
The council voted five in favor and Councilman Ed Delia opposed the resolution.
A more formal schedule with respect to public hearings will be available at the next council meeting being held on Tuesday, July 22. The first of the public hearings will discuss the strategic framework and concept of the moving parts and subsequent hearings will focus on the specific elements and the final hearing will be the executive summary including public input. The hearings will be video taped and available at the library. Relevant points will be available on the township website and published through TAP into Berkeley Heights.