BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The planning of a fifth public meeting was discussed at last week's Township Council meeting with respect to the redevelopment of the municipal complex and land swap.

At the last public hearing on Oct. 6, it was recommended that a portion of the council's public meeting conference session be dedicated to the land transfer and redevelopment to engage in dialog with the governing body and the community.

Councilman Kevin Hall spoke of his observations and recommendations following the four public hearings as it relates to the redevelopment of the municipal complex and the "proverbial land swap." A fifth public meeting will be held, "designed to really pull it all together," said Hall.

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Hall's two observations and recommendations:

  • Schedule a fifth public hearing and pull it together to form a focused dialog.
  • Request the township planner to present different scenarios [residential, mixed-use, commercial] for the Park Avenue property and speak to the particular touch points that the residents have brought on.
    • Present at a council meeting as soon as possible to launch a more formal discussion to the development of the redevelopment plan.

"This is so important, as a council, we are going to have to take it to the people," said Council President Jeanne Kingsley. "I think we need to host a number of coffees and go to the people and talk of the issues and get additional input."

"We need more than 300 people to know what the options are," said Kingsley.

When Little Flower Parish presented the "land swap" concept to the governing body in 2012, as elected officials, Hall explained the need to engage in every opportunity to solve infrastructure issues in town that include roads, storm water, waste water and the building. "When Little Flower brought this to us, it was hard to size up, so we went out there and had professionals to study the problem and provide us with the findings so we could start a focused dialog," said Hall.

"My recommendation is to have another hearing. Get all of the information that was presented in the first four and formulate in such a way that tells the story," said Hall. "Pull out the priority pieces and try and present something that sounds coherent to us and explains the major issues and moving parts to the community."

The fifth hearing will be presented by the professionals and the governing body. "We have to transition to start a dialog between the community and the governing body," said Hall. "This gives the venue to talk through the issues."

There has been public confusion of the Park Avenue property, said Hall. "A lot of people believe there is a foregone conclusion - that there is a plan in place. Which is, in fact, not the case."

A redevelopment study was performed to determine if the property was appropriate for redevelopment. "What was presented was a hypothetical by the planner to aid in discussion," said Hall.

Hall listed the issues as it relates to the redevelopment of the Park Avenue property that include:density; impact on traffic; building height; set back; environmental impact; tax impact - positive and negative with town, school and county; PILOT program; beneficiaries; who would be harmed as far as tax.

"To start the discussion on the redevelopment plan, I recommend and challenge the planner to respond to the residents' questions. Come up with three scenarios - residential, mixed use and commercial. Given each scenario, speak to each issue and talk about the implications to the property, neighborhood and the town - so we can have dialog and organize our thoughts," said Hall.

"Time for throwing daggers at each other is over," said Mayor Bruno. "We know we have to do something - doing nothing will make this building [Park Ave.] deteriorate further. It won't get cheaper to do down the road, it only gets more expensive."

Camille Aragona asked the council why the presentations didn't show detailed schematics to build the municipal complex at the current site. Kingsley responded that a schematic of the footprint of the property was presented, explaining that the trigger to the investigation was the proposal by Little Flower to entertain a land swap. "The professionals were engaged in seeing if the Little Flower campus could make strategic and economic sense," said Kingsley. 

"The word is getting around that a plan has been approved, but that is not correct. It was clear that this is not the case," said Bruno. The planning board has made decisions on the redevelopment study, the redevelopment plans will need to go to the planning board for approval.

In other town news, Berkeley Heights has received their second Silver Certificate for Sustainable New Jersey. "There is a point system to make silver," said Councilman Ed Delia. "It is the second time we have obtained it. We did a really good job and commend Richard Leister and Len Berkowitz - they put in a lot of effort."

The council approved Mayor Bruno's nomination of John Bussiculo as Township Administrator to be effective as of Nov. 3, 2014.