BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Good news for Berkeley Heights Community Pool members - the pool will open on schedule this summer.  Township Council members unanimously approved an ordinance setting the terms and conditions of a lease offered to the Summit Area YMCA at its meeting on Tuesday, April 4.

A few members of the public spoke in opposition to the agreement during the public hearing, but more supporters of the ordinance spoke and they received applause from the audience.  The sense of the council was that the agreement with the Y resolves a number of issues, has the support of most residents and, in the end, is a net win for the township. 

Basically, under the terms of the lease, the Summit Area YMCA will build a 36,000 square foot facility on township-owned land on Locust Avenue, by the Berkeley Heights Community Pool, rehab the pool for the current season and, within the first six years of the lease, build a new outdoor pool.  

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Resident Sai Bhargavi Akiri asked why there could not be a referendum on this lease. 

Her question was echoed by resident Tom Maciejewski. 

The consensus of the council was that a referendum was unnecessary and, unless it were to be held in November, on Election Day, very costly. 

The last referendum, a special election, was held on the Berkeley Aquatic Club's attempt to build a "Center of Excellence." Their application had been turned down by the council, but supporters of the Olympic-sized pool and related complex circulated a petition and forced a referendum. Their efforts failed, the public supported the council's position and the referendum failed to pass in each of the township's 11 voting districts. 

That election cost the township at least $40,000  said Township Clerk Ana Minkoff. 

Council President Marc Faecher said, "With this use we settle a lot of issues important to the community," including keeping the property in the open land inventory, keeping the Y in Berkeley Heights and keeping the community pool open. Had the Y not taken over management of the pool and agreed to put money into the old pool, which was at the end of its useful life, the pool would not have opened this summer.

In the end, Mayor Robert Woodruff said he has been talking to people in town and asking them if it "would make a difference (to them) if the Y left." Whether they belonged to the Y or not, "eighty percent of the people" said "Yes ... This is what we do, we ask people's opinion."

Former Board of Education member John Sincaglia supported the ordinance and reminded those who objected to the council's decision that they elected them to make decisions and, if they don't like those decision, "can elect someone else."

A complete copy of the lease can be found here.

Some of the important parts of the lease include the following:

Rental fees are set up by years.  In year one through six, the annual rental will be $1; seven to 20, $25,000; 21-30 $50,000 and 31 to 50 $65,000.

The Summit Area YMCA will be required to pay all costs and expenses related to the operation of the community pool, including the cost of building a new pool and all related facilities at a cost of about $900,000.  In addition, the Y will pay a minimum of $210,000 to make all necessary repairs and improvements so the pool can open this summer. The YMCA will also assume the current community pool loan which will have a balance of $105,000 at the time the lease is signed.

The YMCA will be permitted to build a 36,000-square-foot facility on the property which will include space for day care, meetings, a full-sized gym and other amenities, among other spaces.

Membership to the pool will be offered to all residents of the town, whether they are members of the YMCA or not.

Once the new YMCA facility is built and can be used, Berkeley Heights Recreation, the Board of Education and PAL athletic teams will have priority for gym space during the winter season.