To the Editor:
As a taxpaying resident of Berkeley Heights, I am excited and appreciative of the changes we have been experiencing in Berkeley Heights. For those who may not know, our Town has been changing and progressing for the last six years. I am truly BH Proud. This election year, I heard a lot of politicking about “change.” We are not immune to our Nation’s frustrations. However, it became clear to me that here in Berkeley Heights, residents are not aware that there has been tremendous change in the past 6 years…positive, forward thinking change not based on political party agenda, but instead of what is important for our local community and its residents. Much of the change is not yet visible but in the planning stages. The current Town Council has been working incredibly hard, listening and working with residents to make change happen in Berkeley Heights. As they say, Rome was not built in a day…and as many of us know change takes time. When it comes to municipalities, change needs to be carefully vetted, regulations are required to be met by law, old infrastructure needs replacing….and money is tight, especially in New Jersey. But with new ways of thinking and new coalitions and collaborations made, here are a few ways our current Town Council has initiated improvements for our town:
Mandated Affordable Housing: This Town Council worked tirelessly to get our share of the Statewide affordable housing MANDATE down to a fraction of the number sought by the affordable housing advocate and developers that sought to compel much higher numbers. The 860 demand was reduced to 389 and by virtue of credits they were able to secure as part of the settlement, only 206 units will actually be built. They have worked with our attorneys, and the Township planner to compel developers to put in upgraded buildings to accommodate the additional affordable housing units (only 15-20% of the units in the buildings will be affordable). These developments constitute new ratables. Locations are: the old Kings property, the movie theater and Locust avenue-a 55 and over community and Connell. We should especially thank Marc Faecher for all he has done and for lending his expertise to take the lead in representing Berkeley Heights through the complexities of the affordable housing mandate in New Jersey.
Multi-purpose Municipal Facilities:The Town Council has been working for over four years gathering input from residents to ensure the construction of a municipal building and new library that includes amenities that can be enjoyed by the entire community of Berkeley Heights.They worked with experts in redevelopment law, bond counsel, library architectural specialists, and town planners to achieve a scenario that works for Berkeley Heights. This process was handled deliberately and carefully and as with all change takes time to execute properly. A few facts that may be informative to you… Did you know we most likely will not bond for the entire $28 million cost to build the Town Hall? Did you know the Little Flower Hamilton Avenue property is expected to sell for ~ $8-10 million? This sale will be used to offset the cost of the $28 million, so potentially the actual bond may be ~$20 million. Using the Hamilton Avenue Site to off-set the project costs PLUS satisfy a portion of our affordable housing obligations was nothing short of genius. Also, the Township will not take out the full amount of the bond all at once. Instead, similar to a home equity line-of-credit they will take out short-term notes only as money is needed to fund the construction, and will not borrow the entire amount until the complex is complete and the Hamilton Ave property is sold. In addition, the bond payments will occur over a 30-year period. The building will last for generations to come and the cost of the funding will take over a 30-year period, and hence the people that get to enjoy the new facilities will help to pay for the development cost. How will they offset the bond cost per resident? The goal is that the new developments (in bullet 1) will bring in new ratables. This is expected to offset some of the tax increase. Frankly, I would not be supporting the Town Council if they were not looking out for Berkeley Heights. They are tax payers too and only want what is best for Berkeley Heights - NO HIDDEN AGENDA!
YMCA and the BH Community Pool: The most under-publicized negotiation handled by our Town Council involved the Berkeley Heights YMCA and the BH Community Pool. The pool required extensive repairs and financial assistance. The YMCA had been looking for space for years to construct a new facility in order to remain in Berkeley Heights and continue to provide vital services to the Township. The Town Council worked hard to negotiate a lease which obligates the YMCA to manage the pool in the near term and build a new YMCA facility and pool. By helping to facilitate this transaction, the pool will remain open, the YMCA will be able to stay in Town, continuing two great traditions in Berkeley Heights. We should thank our Town Council for helping to make this happen!
Building a Vibrant Downtown: When I moved here 14 years ago, I thought the downtown needed some help. I have seen so much change and progress for the better! The Town Council along with the Planning Board has approved Article 19 which creates standards and continuity in the downtown district. You can now see pockets of improvements around town. Facades updated and new streetscape requirements installed. The area of Springfield Avenue with Berkeley Wine, Peak Medical and Sublime has been redone. Take a look at the Berkley Shopping Center. There are gorgeous roses and flowers all around the center along with new streetscape updates. The E-Medical building has a new façade with new streetscape updates. The Berkeley Professional Building has been redone and it looks fantastic, including the streetscape requirements. The Investors Bank has updated their streetscape. And we can’t forget the beautiful Primrose building with the new businesses and streetscapes. Just look around town, we are moving forward and we will continue to move forward.
CHANGE has been happening all around us and well before an election slogan. The planning that is driving that change has been in progress for the past few years thanks to the leadership of our Town Council and the people of Berkeley Heights.
On the Horizon: The groundbreaking will soon kick off for our new Municipal Building including: A multi-generational recreation center that is bright, clean and welcoming; a state of the art library with technology to keep pace with today’s needs; a place for the community groups and our seniors to hold meetings and host new programs; a modern Police Department that is up to State standards - no more trailers for our bravest. All these improvements and more are happening because of the hard work of our current Town Council: Marc Faecher, Jeanne Kingsley, Michael D’Aquila, Craig Pastore, Peter Bavoso, Manuel Couto and Mayor Bob Woodruff. A big thank you for all of your public service. It has not gone unnoticed! All these improvements will bring more residents and new energy to support our downtown and its local businesses, building a stronger Berkeley Heights.
When you see any member of the Town Council at a meeting or around town, stop and say “thank you” for their public service. They have worked countless hours to continue to move Berkeley Heights forward, and I know they will continue to welcome the input of ALL of us and make good decisions for Berkeley Heights! It is my hope in this holiday season that we look around, see the changes happening and continue to be BH Proud!
I have been involved in Berkeley Heights for over 10 years. I have been a part of the many PTO’s, raising money for sick friends in town, Chairwoman of the Downtown Beautification Committee, Member of the Peppertown Park Committee and part of the campaign for Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley, John Sincaglia, Councilman Peter Bavoso and Councilman Manuel Couto.