Berkeley Heights Fails to Act on Noise Ordinance Revision After Considerable Opposition; Police Reorganization Approved

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Changes in the Berkeley Heights noise ordinance that many residents felt would endanger popular civic events such as the Relay for Life and Friday night football games apparently prevented the Township Council from introducing the change measure on Tuesday night.

Councilman and independent Mayoral candidate, John Bonacci, said he had asked that the revision measure be put on the agenda for this week’s meeting because he believed the township’s present ordinance did not meet state Department of Environmental Protection standards.

However, Board of Education Vice President John Sincaglia said the proposed measure would have prohibited any activity between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. that generated noise that can be heard from a distance of 25 feet.

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This, he noted, would preclude such activities as Mountain Valley Conference and PAL football and the township’s Memorial Day activities.

Several other civic events such as the Boy Scout Camporee and high school graduation would be endangered, according to Township Council candidate Thomas Pirone, as would several fundraising activities such as the Relay for Life and the Classic Car Show.

High school cheerleader Kaitlin Harrison said, if the ordinance were in effect, it could prevent she and her classmates from raising money through the Relay for Life for a classmate who has cancer and would prevent them from enjoying Friday Night football games.

Council candidate Linda Weber added if the governing body could not think of any activities that would be excluded from the proposed ordinance, the  regulation would be completely ineffectual. She urged the council to remove the proposal from its agenda.

However, attorney Carl Woodward, who represents several residents who live near Governor Livingston High School, said his clients did not object to all events but only to those that caused so much noise that residents were not able to sleep at night.

The Council could always vote to permit government-sponsored activities such as graduations, parades and the Memorial Day ceremonies to be exempted from the ordinance at the time they were scheduled, he added.

Although supportive of the ordinance, resident Thomas Foregger said instead of allowing commercial businesses generating noise to begin operations at 7 a.m. while prohibiting residential noise-generating activities until after 8 a.m. the restrictions should be uniform.

Sincaglia said, however, a councilman wishing to sponsor a measure such as the revised noise restrictions measure should “take ownership” of it rather than simply trying to “introduce a canned item.”

Council Vice President Elaine K. Perna added the governing body’s attorney had advised them if they changed the current ordinance they would once again have to get DEP approval for the changes and this might subject the township to stricter standards.

The noise ordinance amendments were supported only by Bonacci and Councilman Gerald Nelson.

The council did, however, adopt an ordinance changing the administrative structure of the township police department to allow for a chief of police, one captain, a maximum of two lieutenants, seven sergeants and 17 patrol officers.

The township currently does not have a chief of police due to the retirement of Chief  David Zager in August.

Foregger opposed the measure, saying the department now is top heavy with 37 per cent of the force in management and it would become more top heavy under the new lineup with 39.2 per cent of the force in management.

Councilman Craig Pastore answered Foregger’s objection to seven sergeants by saying the ordinance allowed for a maximum of seven sergeants and he did not see the force going beyond the current five sergeants.

Bonacci said the proposed ordinance went against the township’s administrative code because it did not recognize that, in the absence of the appointment of a new chief, the highest ranking captain should be the officer-in-charge and no other specific officer-in-charge was needed.

He added that he supported appointment of a new chief, but was opposed to an ordinance that, in effect, would bring the total police staff to 28 or 29 when the township only has budgeted for 24 members of the department.

Police Captain Michael Mathis, who currently is in charge of the department, disputed contentions that adding lieutenants would add more desk positions, noting the lieutenants would be “on the road.”

He added Captain Riley of the Union County Prosecutors Office is 100% behind the reorganization.

The captain also said although he would like to fill the current two patrol officer vacancies in the department, he would make the force work within the new structure until the vacancies could be filled.

PBA President Mark Stallone added although his organization was behind the restructuring measure they would like to see a new chief appointed as soon as possible.

Mayor Woodruff, Perna and Pastore said since both the police department staff and the PBA were behind the proposed restructuring the ordinance should be adopted.

Only Bonacci voted against the measure with Nelson abstaining because his son is a member of the police force.

The council also adopted an ordinance granting an easement to Westfield Gospel Hall, Inc. along the township’s right-of-way on Berkeley Avenue that will enable the religious organization to expand the parking lot of its proposed new worship center in the township. 

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