Berkeley Aquatic Petitions Council to Amend Sewer Use Agreement

Mayor Joseph Bruno presented residents Joan and Mike Luciano with a proclamation recognizing their 60th wedding anniversary during the council’s Tuesday, Nov. 20 meeting. The couple were married on Nov. 15, 1952 at St. Leo’s Church in Irvington. Credits: Deb Dawson

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – An ordinance has been presented by petition to the Township Council that would allow Berkeley Aquatic to amend a sewer use agreement with the township’s wastewater treatment system for a 51,000 square foot aquatic facility to be located in Warren. Berkeley Aquatic is currently located in Berkeley Heights. The council previously evaluated and denied the amended agreement. The public hearing is set for
Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo explained the Faulkner Act allows a person or agency to introduce an ordinance provided the clerk has certified it is correct and there are enough resident signatures on the petition. He noted the council was not required to take any action at the Nov. 20 meeting, but must vote on it at the public hearing or a special referendum/election for the ordinance will be required.

The township believes the facility doesn’t belong in a residential area, however, as the agreement stands the facility would be located among properties in Warren Township that are supposed to be served by the Berkeley Heights wastewater system.

Speaking for Berkeley Aquatic, Attorney Peter Wolfson of Porzio, Bromber and Newman in Morristown said the agreement does not specify “just residential.” He said, and the ordinance states, the township has significant excess sewer capacity for both current and future demand. Wolfson said the flow from the facility would be “assessed as domestic flow” and it would require sewer capacity of 6,000 gallons a day in total.

According to the petition, the township would have to provide the 17 sewer connections needed to develop the property as an aquatic center.

Wolfson said, “535 Berkeley Heights residents petitioned for this ordinance… Berkeley Heights is turning its back on the $85,000 connection fee.” He noted to refuse to amend would require a special election in addition to the payment of damages.

Several residents spoke against the ordinance. Denise Foy lives on Emerson Lane in Berkeley Heights. Her residential neighborhood would abut the facility that would be located just over the border in Warren Township.

“Many of us are asking just what is going on when a profit-making company moving out of Berkeley Heights thinks that it is appropriate to spend at least $25,000 of our tax dollars on lawsuits and special elections about sewer access," Foy said. "This approach comes after the council that we elected to represent us evaluated this issue, held public hearings and voted no to amend the contract with Warren to allow commercial use. The potential cost to Berkeley Heights residents is in addition to the tax dollars already being spent by the council to defend its original decision against a lawsuit. We strongly support the mayor and the council’s original position in this matter and ask that they evaluate the legal propriety of the BAC’s (Berkeley Aquatics) latest attempt to bully them and the citizens at Berkeley Heights’ expense… (The land) is clearly residential – anyone can see that by just driving in the area. There is not one commercial aspect to the area – no large parking lots, no businesses, absolutely no commercial infrastructure – just homes and families.”

The council decided to take not action until the public hearing when it will be required to vote on the ordinance or end up having a public referendum.

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