Editor's note: Edited 2/9/17 at 8:00 a.m.
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In a meeting that included a resident being escorted out by the police chief, outbursts from audience members and bursts of applause, the Township Council managed to move forward on several projects Tuesday.
After almost two hours of public comment, the council, in a unanimous straw vote, authorized Township Attorney Joseph Sordillo to enter into lease negotiations with the Berkeley Heights Y. At a previous meeting of the council, the Summit Area YMCA proposed taking over the management of the Berkeley Heights Community Pool (BHCP), leasing the land on which the pool is located, and building a 36,000 square foot facility on the approximately three acres of usable land on the site. In addition, the Y would make needed repairs to the pool so it can open this season, and later replace the current pool, which is more than 50 years old and at the end of its useful life.
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Council President Marc Faecher said he knew there was concern about traffic on Locust and Timber, especially in "connection to 100 Locust, a senior housing development, that has been going on for some time." The developer will have to do a traffic study, which will be reviewed by the township. A traffic light could be placed at the entrance to Locust and Snyder. "In addition, if the Y and township execute a lease, it will be up to the Y to resolve site plan related traffic concerns on the other side of Timber," added Faecher.
Mayor Robert Woodruff said the township is aware of the traffic issues on Timber and surrounding areas of the Locust property. He and Township Administrator John Bussiculo have met with Police Chief John DiPasquale and are taking a "global approach" to traffic issues. That approach takes into consideration how the development at the King's and movie theatre property, as well as 100 Locust and the YMCA affects traffic in the township. Township planner Mike Mistretta is currently doing a traffic study of 100 Locust and there is a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement that includes language that permits the township to require a traffic light throughout the 30 years of the PILOT agreement, the mayor explained.
The traffic issues will also be reconsidered when, and if, the Y signs the lease and has full schedules available that will impact the traffic on Locust and surrounding streets.
A spirited discussion of the proposal began as soon as the floor was open to the public.
Todd Scorzafavia, a resident of Timber Drive, said "What I heard tonight was all about money." Nothing was mentioned about the safety of children who live in the Timber Drive area, "which is already a cut-through," he continued. He said his seven-year-old daughter "wants to ride her bike safely to the pool," but the additional traffic generated by the Y will make an already busy road more dangerous and will generate more traffic onto Timber Drive.
A supporter of both the pool and the Y, he said, "Let's think about safety. Nothing wrong with the plan except the location ... It's the wrong location," he said. Residents "have to put safety above pleasure, the pool, and money, the Y. Safety first," he said. "When a child dies in the future, there will be lawsuits, and isn't that horrible that we have a decision tonight to make to save a child's life," he said.
Other Timber Drive residents expressed their concerns about the traffic situation on Locust and Timber and, by the end of the public comment period, at the mayor's suggestion, an ad hoc committee of Timber Drive residents was in the process of being created. Once assembled, they were to call Bussiculo
Doug Brogowski, a Park Avenue resident and a self-declared supporter of the Y and the pool, said, "Maximizing every square foot of town for the highest possible revenue generation ... makes for a pretty lousy place to live ... Losing both of these institutions will have an absolutely disastrous effect on Berkeley Heights for a very long time. This is a wonderful deal for Berkeley Heights."
Questions about the plan included whether this is an "all or nothing" situation, the size of the facility, with parking, when plans will be available for public viewing, how the pool got into this situation, how construction vehicles would be dealt with and the zoning of the site. Others questioned the difference between this proposal and the Berkeley Aquatic facility which the council voted against several years ago, the effect the expansion of the Y facility would have on Lifetime Fitness and the number of children who will be at the pool -- 1,000 was floated as a possibility.
Some suggestions from residents included creating a bike path from Timber to the pool, looking at all of Locust and doing the planning for the street up front.
Jeanne Mirabella said the proposed Y is literally in her back yard and "I like having the pool there" and thinks she will like having the Y there, also. Traffic is a problem on Timber and it's a problem going the posted 25 mph speed limit, she told the council. "We would like to have you include the residents of Timber ... I would be happy to serve and have many neighbors who would be happy to serve ... I am not opposed, but I am opposed to the 'wait and see' attitude" about the class schedule, pick up and drop off times at that Y and what that will do to traffic in the area.
Others who support the Y building on Locust turned to the benefits offered by the Y and the pool -- jobs for young people, partnering with Governor Livingston High School programs, meeting spaces for local organizations and free health seminars.
Council Vice President Jeanne Kingsley read a letter from Laurie Liming in support of the proposal and lauding the "Live Strong" program which Liming uses as she recovers from breast cancer.
Resident Tom Lenehan urged the council to increase the proposed lease amount. "We're essentially giving it away."
Sai Bharrgavi Akiri asked if there could be a referendum on the Y and was told that wasn't in the plans or necessary.
Manny Couto and other council members supported the idea of the ad hoc committee and agreed that safety can't be compromised.
Peter Bavoso said, "We're trying to do what is best for the whole community."
Woodruff said, "They don't want to have a quality of life issue," nor does he or the town. What he knows is that Timber Drive and the Y "had a pool and a Y ... we won't get one without the other...but it is a process." He then authorized the straw vote adding, "We haven't heard the end of this."