BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - My wife and I (and our three children) recently moved to Berkeley Heights from Cranford and we couldn’t be happier with the emphasis on open space, the wooded environment, and peace and quiet.  The town lacks a large and vibrant downtown, which some people complain about, but not us.  Anyone who has ever spent 20 minutes trying to drive a half-mile through Cranford or Westfield knows what an overstretched downtown can mean to a person’s quality of life.  Let us retain our mindful, bucolic, and quiet landscape and leave the quasi-cityscape to someplace else.  

However, this quiet environment does make it harder to lock arm-in-arm as a community.  There is no centerpiece that brings all sides of the town together.  Sometimes  it feels like four separate towns, with each side going in a different direction.  Residents often visit libraries in other towns and belong to private community clubs because there is little public access in Berkeley Heights.

This could change with the proposed land swap.  We need a robust community center, a modern library, and a municipal building that doesn’t resemble a third world facility.  This town is too nice to be in the situation is it in.   Take a look at all of the neighboring towns.  Look at Long Hill’s facilities, and compare them with ours.   We need to change that, and the swap allows us to do that at a relatively low cost, with relatively little environmental impact, and relatively little disruption to residents. 

If the swap fails, then what?  What if Little Flower decides to sell the land to a private developer, with high density housing (and plenty of it) as a likely result?  It’s happening in Cranford.  A developer scooped up land that was zoned for commercial use, filed an affordable housing lawsuit, and has been approved by the state to build a 300-unit apartment complex (of which only a portion of units are devoted to affordable housing).  The complex will be surrounded by single-family residences in a quiet and bucolic area that eerily resembles the land being considered for swap.   Once it happened, the residents had no recourse, no vote, and no way to turn it back.  Through the vagaries of the affordable housing law, the state and developers held sway.   There is talk of having to expand schools and other infrastructure to accommodate this, including roads and traffic lights.   I’m not saying the same thing could happen to Berkeley Heights but anything is possible in the world of private development.  If Cranford officials could foresee the future, they would have done everything possible to buy the property outright.

Regardless, we need an updated library for our children and all other residents; basketball courts and indoor exercise areas for our youth (who have to play at 10pm on school nights due to our lack of facilities); classrooms for our adults; meeting halls for our seniors; and a decent place to call home for those who protect and serve us.  Somewhere to congregate and become more active.   Something to unite us.  

As for the long term debt obligations, one must invest to simply endure, never mind to flourish.

The time to invest is now.

Brian Campbell

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