BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Ever since the idea of the “Swap” first surfaced, residents have wanted to know where the library will go while renovations or, more recently, new construction, takes place. Residents got their answer last week. The temporary home of the Berkeley Heights Public Library will be the Little Flower Church Rectory at its 110 Roosevelt Ave. property.
The Township Council introduced an ordinance on July 18 authorizing the temporary use and occupancy of a portion of the property, the rectory, after the closing on the land transaction is complete. According to a portion of the ordinance, on June 30, the township and Little Flower and, “by letter agreement dated June 30, 2017, agreed the due diligence to the land transaction was complete and issued a “Notice of Date to Vacate,” providing the required six months’ notice for the closing of the transaction.
Council President Marc Faecher gave a status report of the issue before the vote. A notice to vacate has been given and accepted by both parties, he said and that is important, because, “The library needs time to move. I was very surprised by the arduous process that needs to be effectuated to move a library.” Everything in the library needs to be catalogued, and everything has a specific place and that “needs six months,” he said.
The closing is expected to take place “at year’s end,” he said, but even after the deal is closed, Little Flower Church still needs to renovate the library property and “the library needs some place to go,” he said. After conversations, between interested parties in the township and Little Flower Church, they agreed on a solution to temporarily relocate the library in the rectory. Faecher said that while the rectory is smaller, “the intention was never to operate the library in the same size with full services, it was to maintain an operational presence, with significant services offered,” Faecher said, until it could move into permanent quarters in the new Municipal Complex.
Under a use and occupancy agreement that covers the time period after the closing, Little Flower Church will continue to use the larger building for worship services and school activities and the Berkeley Heights Library will operate out of the rectory. The church will be responsible for interior and exterior maintenance, and will indemnify the township against losses. The church will pay $2,000 a month rent for the temporary use of the facility and the library will get the use of parking and the rectory. After the seven months are up, Faecher said, officials envision the development of that property will start to begin and buildings will be demolished.
The ordinance was introduced with no further comment from the council.
During an earlier part of the meeting, Township resident Dr. Thomas Foregger asked why the rent being charged to Little Flower was so low, when his research indicated market rate would be in excess of $37,000 a month based on square footage.
Faecher said it was because it was “a short-term rental” with a plan in place to demolish the building in seven months, and would not be a marketable property. In addition, all the upkeep of the property, including the rectory, and the insurance, is being done by Little Flower. He described it as “more of a licensing-type use of the property,” in which the “use will be intermittent” and the rent “reasonable.”
Councilmember Mike D’Aquilla and Council Vice President Jeanne Kingsley recused themselves, as they have previously done because of a relationship with the church. The vote was 3-0 in favor, with Faecher, Councilmen Manuel Couto and Craig Pastore voting to introduce the ordinance. Councilman Peter Bavoso was not at the meeting.
The public hearing on the ordinance will be held on Aug. 15, the next meeting of the council. Council meetings are held at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, 29 Park Ave. The public is invited and may ask questions or make comments during the public hearing.