BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The public hearing and final vote on the $4 million bond ordinance to provide additional funds for the new municipal complex will be held at the Tuesday, July 10, Township Council meeting.
Residents will be given an opportunity to speak on the bond ordinance at the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the town hall, 29 Park Ave.
The cost of the municipal complex project went from a projected $28 million to $32 million since the last estimate of the cost was given in January 2017. The $4 million bond ordinance, which was introduced at the June 26 meeting of the council, is required by state law since the estimated cost of the municipal complex increased by $4 million and the township has to certify there are available funds on hand for the project.
The municipal complex project has a long history that officially began on Dec. 4, 2012, when council members discussed a “swap” of properties owned by the township and Church of the Little Flower. The pastor of the Church of the Little Flower was said to have mentioned in his homily that he would like to trade the land on Hamilton Avenue for the library.
Since that time, there have been lawsuits, “Stop the Swap” signs and vocal opposition to some or all of the project. Reasons for the objections included the price, size and location of the municipal complex, as well as the failure to hold a referendum on the project, lack of transparency and the increasing cost of the complex. Many of these same complaints were voiced at the June 26 meeting of the council.
Since 2012, the vision of what “the Swap” would entail has changed, along with its estimated price tag. After a series of special meetings at Governor Livingston High School and others at town hall, where residents provided their input on the project, the swap morphed into something quite different than the original plan.
By June 16, 2015, the township’s consultants recommended the township should build a new municipal complex on Park Avenue and the Hamilton Avenue property should become the site for a 100-unit townhouse development – with 80 market rate units and 20 affordable housing units. The township would sell the property and use the money from the sale to offset some of the cost for the municipal complex. At that time, the cost of the entire project was estimated to be between $20.8 and $23.6 million dollars.
By Jan. 10, 2017, the estimated cost of the municipal complex was $28 million. This was the first time residents had heard that the tax impact of the municipal complex would be about $78 a year for the owner of the average home which, at that time, had an assessed value of $308,100 (which represented a fair market value of $550,179).
The $28 million bond ordinance was introduced at the Jan. 24, 2017, Township Council meeting and it was expected that the public hearing on the ordinance would be held on Feb. 7. The public hearing was held and the bond ordinance approved.
It was approved a second time at the Oct. 10, 2017 meeting of the council. Since the February approval, there was paperwork that needed to be filed with the Department of Community Affairs before the adoption could be official. At the time, Township Attorney Joe Sordillo said there is case law on this and, once the paperwork is filed, all that remains to be done is for the clerk to read the official title of the ordinance and for the council to re-vote. She read the title and the council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.
The vote on Tuesday, July 10, could be the final vote on the project, and shovels could be in the ground sometime in August.