BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 8 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answers are from Republican candidate Manuel Couto for Week 6.

Residents are still interested in your views on the Land Swap involving the Township selling the library to Little Flower Church and the Township purchase of the Hamilton Avenue property owned by Little Flower Church for a net cost of $2,845,000. 

Sign Up for E-News

Do you agree with this "swap"? If you agree with the swap, please explain the benefits to the Township? If you don't agree with the "swap," explain why? 

As a real estate professional with over thirty years of experience with community development, housing and demographic trends, we have an incredible opportunity to move our town forward through the Municipal Redevelopment plans currently in front of us. It is rare that a town has a chance to accomplish so much for so many people with a transaction that can actually propel a community in so many fundamental and productive ways. Pete Bavoso and I have asked many questions and gotten incredible input from residents and with them believe the following:

Our current “municipal complex” - which is stretching that term a bit - includes our Police Station, Town Hall as well as Town Administration Offices and maybe (by name only) an old, small “community center” room, which actually was once part of the old Fire Department. Our Seniors do not meet there.

A significant portion of our Police Station is made up of trailers – and they were considered a temporary solution over 15 years ago. These facilities, including the Library, are all obsolete and years behind current codes - among them the American Disabilities Act (ADA). This wasn't acceptable then and isn't in the year 2016. We must act fiscally smart ensuring we have the most bang for every one of our taxpayer bucks. Peter and I pay those property taxes on our homes just like you do, and we are prudent in our approach, but not penny wise and pound foolish…there is a bigger picture here, and we cannot forget how important that is to our future.

Berkeley Heights can do better than this and now there is an opportunity to do so. The Redevelopment can has been kicked down the road for years regarding our municipal center and the need to rebuild was identified by a prior Council during the 80s. Our town deserves proper, modern facilities that enable our police force to have the technology they need, and a venue for services our citizens expect and deserve; a place that makes us all proud to call our own! Our Seniors will have a well-deserved, dedicated meeting space that will allow us to create a LIFE CENTER location and attract new types of County educational, social and recreational programs they can utilize regularly. The new Library will be a modern learning environment that will also have additional meeting space for groups of residents, and the Community Center will create a centralized town location for recreation, sports, activities, gatherings and events.

Establishing a complete municipal complex at one location to be located adjacent to the existing location obviously also assists with property maintenance costs, plowing, and general upkeep while creating a true centralized hub for our town and residents. After 30 years of discussion without action, it is time for this to happen and it finally can. It will also serve as a major anchor point and catalyst for the continued downtown redevelopment plans.

With respect to the Hamilton Avenue property, just a mention that the word “swap” which is so often used, is not really accurate. This is a real estate sales transaction involving property owned by the township not an exchange or barter of property. It is based on two independent financial appraisals. The town has agreed to pay a net cost of $2,845,000 to Little Flower in this transaction. But what is critical at this point is looking at the bigger picture regarding the Municipal redevelopment because the transaction is just part of that bigger picture.

The Hamilton Avenue property will allow the town to sell the land to a developer for an estimated $6.5-9+ million, adding new ratables to our tax roll through some 100 Town House units (demographically attractive to Baby Boomers seeking to downsize as well as first time homeowners) and also assisting with our affordable housing obligation with some 20 units.

The current, general estimate for the Municipal Complex is approximately $25-27 million. We have sat down and discussed the project financials with our Township CFO (which any resident can do), and there are various ways the bonding for this project can be approached based on timing and project needs. The initial phases for this project could be covered by issuing 1-year notes vs. bonding for the determined full amount of the project. A smart potential approach while interest rates are historically low. And based on the timing of the Hamilton Avenue sale to a developer, the $6.5-9+ million would be aimed at the Municipal complex project to either reduce the amount for full bonding or give the town the ability to pay down the debt, therefore lowering the full amount of the bond and the overall cost of the project.

But even with full bonding of the Municipal Complex, based on home assessed property value of approximately $300,000 (which translates to a market value of around $550,000), would mean about $67.00 added to your current tax bill.

The bigger picture, however, comes when you follow the full vision through and start connecting the pieces for what is happening downtown to increase overall property value using our new Municipal Complex as a hub & catalyst for momentum!

We have our centrally located Berkeley Heights Train Station with mid-town direct service into NYC, which will be next to the new Municipal Complex. Just across the street one piece is already in place with our beautiful privately funded Veteran’s Memorial Park. Now move across Plainfield Avenue with the combined vision of the new privately funded Peppertown Park design and generously donated land by the late Vito Mondeli for additional park space giving the town a protected centralized green area. Make your way towards the vacant Kings & Movie Theater, which will now become a combined “Retail & Residential” space, again helping with our affordable housing obligation, and creating pedestrian friendly opportunities that will attract people to spend time utilizing our downtown businesses.

By starting to understand how the various pieces all work together in an effort to continue to move our town forward in a fiscally responsible way you start to realize the current progress is quite amazing. From the affordable housing settlement, negotiations with developers, renovated parks, the new Hotel and Restaurant, along with the Hamilton Avenue property transaction and our New Municipal complex, we are seeing much needed progress for our town where every citizen benefits.

We ask for your vote on November 8, 2016 line B; Bavoso and Couto for township council.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in the answer are the candidate's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the candidate.