BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Township Council will hold a hearing on Monday, Nov. 10 to give an “executive summary” of the data presented in the previous four public hearings on two options concerning the “land swap” proposed by Little Flower Church, possible building of new municipal facilities on the Little Flower property and renovation and/or replacement of the current municipal building on its current Park Avenue site.
At Monday’s meeting of the council, Councilman Kevin Hall said the purpose of next Monday’s session would be to talk more in depth about the original overture from the church and to look at all the “affected parts” in the continuing efforts to value the Little Flower property.
Hall said there will not be enough time by Monday to give data on all the impacted alternatives in the future of the municipal building, library, community center and other affected municipal facilities.
He did say, however, that Monday’s hearing will be an opportunity to “change the dialogue” on the options so that a council member rather than one of the professional planners or other personnel will lead the discussions, residents will be able to hear the opinions of governing body members and they will be able to question the council.
He emphasized that no final decision will be made on the various options at the Nov. 10 meeting.
Little Flower Church approached the Township with a proposal to exchange the township library for the much larger church property on Hamilton Avenue, across from the firehouse.
Township officials have explained that the current municipal complex and public library are in need of major repair.
They have noted that neither facility meets the current and growing needs of the township. Space is a major issue in the municipal building. The majority of the complex is out of code and it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The same holds true for the library.
The township has a memorandum of understanding with the church which allows the township to conduct preliminary due diligence into the viability of using the church property for municipal purposes.
At the previous hearings, township engineering, planning and legal professionals have presented two basic options: Agree to a land swap with Little Flower and sell the current Park Avenue site while opening it up for redevelopment or renovate all municipal facilities while retaining them on the Park Avenue site.
The option for retaining the current Park Avenue site has thus far not included a discussion of how the much-needed renovation of the public library would take place. The only discussion on a library upgrade has been construction of a new facility utilizing land and buildings on the land to be “swapped” from the church.
At Monday’s council meeting resident Jeff Germansky of Lawrence Drive said that, in order for residents to be able to get a fair assessment of the value of the township’s plans they have to have some idea of the scope of work needed on the library should the township retain the Park Avenue site for the current municipal building.
Hall said Monday that he didn’t have a particular problem with an “indicative reference point” or some estimate of the costs of upgrading the library, but he was afraid that residents will perceive that as a fixed cost figure.
Councilman Thomas Pirone said that perhaps it was possible to add an estimated 10 to 20 percent to the costs of the option for retaining the complex in its current spot for redevelopment of the library.
Council president Jeanne Kingsley agreed that Germansky’s request was not out of line with what many residents have been asking so they could get a “complete picture” of the option involving retention of the current site.
Germansky said the decision should not be made so much from a “responsive point of view” in reference to the Little Flower proposal, but from the point of view of what would make sense for the community to go forward in the next four or five years.
Hall and Mayor Joseph Bruno said residents should email their comments or questions they would like addressed at the November 10 hearing to them before the close of business this Thursday.
In official action at Monday’s session, the council approved a contract extending from January 1 of this year to December 31, 2017 with Teamsters Local No. 469 for clerical and police communications personnel who work for the township. Among other items, the new agreement provides for salary increases of 2 percent per year for each of the five years covered by the contract.
On another topic. Hall and Councilman Edward Delia talked about the feasibility of scheduling a public meeting, possibly open to residents of communities near Berkeley Heights, to discuss the proposed Pilgram Pipeline that would transport gasoline, heating oil, kerosene and other fuels through the area from Albany, NY to Linden and carry crude oil back to Albany.
Currently, a conference call with officials of the company proposing the pipeline is proposed with only questions from the public presented but no public presence.
Delia and Hall said residents were concerned about the pipeline’s environmental impact and where the pipeline would run through the township. However, Councilman Robert Woodruff said it was possible, if a public meeting were held, that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance would be opposed to the pipeline.
Bruno said the pipeline basically would run along the route of utility poles currently located in the township. He said perhaps the township could make available to residents maps from the pipeline company indicating where the pipeline would be located.
Hall added that, if company officials were presented, prior to the conference call, with emails from residents about their concerns, perhaps they would be prepared to answer questions about those concerns.The pipeline would not be constructed for several years.
On another matter, township engineer Robert Bocchino said he expected a contract to be awarded shortly to T&M Associates, which will be the project manager on the desnagging of the Passaic River through Berkeley Heights and a number of other areas, including land owned by the Morris County Park Commission.
Bocchino said about $300,000 is available for the project and he expected first priority will be given to communities, such as Berkeley Heights, with major snags that stretch across the river.
On another matter, Woodruff said a meeting was expected to be held Thursday of the volunteer committee deciding how to proceed with the revitalization of Veterans Memorial Park.
He noted that a number of local nurseries have volunteered to help with the landscaping and left open the possibility that residents and other donors would be able to have brick pavers containing the names of loved ones who served in the United States armed forces included along the paths of the park.