BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Tuesday night, May 24, the Township Council took another step towards creating a new municipal complex when, by a 5-1 vote, it introduced an ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan for the facility.

The next step in the process is for the redevelopment plan to be reviewed by the Planning Board on June 1. After reviewing the plan, the board has 45 days to send any comments it has on the plan to the Township Council. The council will then hold a public hearing on the plan and, if it adopts the ordinance, the real work begins.

The process is familiar, last used when the Planning Board approved five properties for redevelopment 

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The facility will house the police department, library and municipal government departments. The police department will have its facilities on the ground floor. The lower level will contain archives for all departments and mechanicals on the lower level on the left end of the building. Recreation will occupy the remainder of the lower level. The library will have a meeting room on the ground level of the building, but the majority of its space will be on the second floor in the center of the complex and extend over the police department on the left side. Municipal government offices will be on the right-hand side of the building, on the ground and second floors. There will be an elevator in the building.  The building will be mostly brick, have an emergency generator and will be energy efficient, although not LEED certified, the architect, Anthony Iovino of GRA Architects, said.

Michael Mistretta of Harbor Consultants, Inc., who is also the township's planner, provided a glimpse into the history of the effort to redevelop the municipal complex. He said the first notes he found on this were dated Feb. 17, 1998, when the governing body adopted a resolution to look into redeveloping the complex.  In 1999, the Township Committee held talks about redeveloping the municipal complex and, in 2007, it recommended creating a redevelopment plan.

The early stages of the current plan started in 2012, Mistretta said and, in 2014, the first plans were made and presented to the public. Multiple public hearings followed and in June 2015, the site plans for the Park Avenue site were presented to the public. Even those plans were changed to reflect comments from the public, who wanted to "keep the DPW" in its current location, "expand the commuter parking" and keep the building away from the residents' homes on Park Avenue, he said.

The building was moved back from the homes, not quite to the NJ Transit right-of-way;  commuter parking expanded from 88 to 123 spaces, the initial size of the building was increased slightly, and other minor changes made. A plea to include a space suitable for recreation basketball in the basement was also considered and, while there won't be enough headroom for NBA games, the ceiling height will be raised so that youngsters will be able to play ball.

Residents at the meeting obtained a copy of the Municipal Complex Redevelopment PlanTuesday evening and it can be seen at Town Hall. The plan includes dimensions, interior and exterior, furniture placement and room designations. These details are subject to change Iovino said.

Once the Township Committee adopts the redevelopment plan, the details of the project must be decided. It will take about six months to design the project; three months to prepare, send out and receive the Request For Proposal (RFP) and Request for Quote (RFQ). Once the decision is made on which developer/general contractor to use, construction can begin.

Asked about the timetable, Mistretta referred people to pages 49, 50 and 51 of the plan, which indicates:
Phase 1, building a new salt dome or similar salt storage building, will take three months;
Phase 2, building the new complex will take 18 months;
Phase 3, creating the new computer parking area will take four months - during this time the current municipal building will be demolished;
Please 4, revamping the new DPW area will take a year.

All told, the process will take four years or so, but the new complex should be occupied and functioning at the end of Phase 3, or about three years after the bids are awarded.

The only person voting against the plan was Councilman Ed Delia, who said he was doing so because the public did not have a chance to vote in a referendum. Other than that, he said he was pleased with the plan.