BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. - It looks as though a 100-unit townhouse development on Hamilton Avenue is the township's future.

The conference session of the July 21 Township Council meeting was devoted to the topic of Hamilton Avenue.  The next conference session, at the Aug. 4 meeting of the council, will focus on the financial aspects of the transaction with Little Flower Church, including bonding, Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and other aspects that will influence property taxes.

This week's meeting focused on the property on Hamilton Avenue which the township plans to purchase from Little Flower Church and for which there will be redevelopment plan in place.

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With the exception of Councilman Ed Delia, the Township Council supports the proposal that the township buy the property on Hamilton Avenue from the church, give the church the library and, after completing a redevelopment study, find a developer to buy and then build a 100-unit townhouse development, 80 of which will be market price and 20 affordable housing, on the property.

Councilman Tom Pirone said the plan provided the "maximum revenue" for the township both from the sale of the property to a developer and the property taxes that would be paid annually to the township, "while keeping the number of units to six per acre." That density is the lowest density permitted under a redevelopment plan.

Council President Jeanne Kingsley also supported the idea. She said she looked at the question from the point of view of "what do we do to have proper services" for township residents. If the municipality decided to simply build a new municipal complex and nothing else, that would cost $23 to $30 million, she said.  "If we buy the land, we can help fund" the municipal complex.

"Our detectives are in temporary trailers" and have been for 20 years, she said. By purchasing the land, we "control our fate."



Councilman Kevin Hall also supported the idea and, while he acknowledged that the township council is not a developer, it is "the manager of the municipal facilities." By purchasing the land, the township will acquire land that is currently tax-exempt, since it is owned by a church, and, after it is developed, will be a source of income for Berkeley Heights.  He also favored the townhouse development as proposed in Plan 2 and the "opportunity to work with the private sector in a development that is not too dense."

As for the number of students generated by the development, the number provided by the planner, 28 school age children for the 100 units, seems to match closely the numbers generated by current properties in the township.  With the help of the Board of Education, which provided numbers of students in various housing types, not the names of the students, the highest density was 0.288 per unit - virtually the same as predicted by Township Planner Mike Mistretta in the presentation at Governor Livingston High School in June. Two other samples were provided by the board were 0.17 and 0.24. "I am relieved the numbers the Board of Education helped us calculate validate the numbers from Mr. Mistretta's presentation," said Hall.

Mayor Robert Woodruff also supported the plan "very strongly."

Only Delia opposed it and the idea of getting involved in the plans for the site, saying, "We're not developers."  All told, this will cost the township $4.5 million when the library, which will be turned over to Little Flower Church, is included. Delia said if the township did not buy the church, "We don't have to get out the library and we can take our time" with the plans for the new municipal complex.

There were few questions from the public.

One involved the redevelopment study and to whom it belongs.  Hall said the study was done with the permission of the Archdiocese, but that once it is done, "it goes with the property." That said, it was necessary to find out if the project, then known as the "swap," was feasible financially and physically for the township.

Mistretta said the redevelopment study will be done by the end of July and submitted to the attorney for review.

Other studies that have to be done and ready to be submitted to the state before the expiration of the memorandum of understanding at the end of November, are the environmental study, letter of interpretation, and line verifications that establish the flood plain, etc.

The council voted to retain Harbor Consulting to finish these studies and have them done by mid-September.

Before the conference session was finished, Delia made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the township purchase "The King's property" so it could be subjected to a redevelopment study to turn it into apartments, which "would make more money" for the township.  He then recommended putting the entire plan for the transaction on the November ballot "to let the voters decide." He even suggested it be a non-binding referendum, "at least we would know their opinion," he said.

No one supported that idea, either and, finally, the regular meeting was ready to start.