I visited the almost completed STANFORD PARK RECREATIONAL FACILITY being constructed on Snyder Avenue by Union County as a “green acres - open spaces” project and I was extremely impressed. The only adverse comment I have is the fact that it was presented that there would be 130 to135 parking spots, some what less than the code required amount. However, as constructed, there are only 109 spots, 5 of which are for the handicapped and 8 of which, surprisingly, encroach on the Town property.
On October 22, 2008, Mike Neavill in the Independent Press proclaimed that Berkeley Heights would soon get a “gift” of a 17+ acre recreation “DREAM PARK”. This typical journalistic endeavor by him, relative to Berkeley Heights politics, was another flack piece for Mayor Cohen’s Administration at election time. It was misleading and purportedly written to influence voters for the $10 million bond referendum which contained $8.6 million for the Stanford Drive community center. What Mr. Neavill did not say was that this 17+ acre “DREAM PARK” was not really a “gift” to the Town. The “DREAM PARK” was to consist of 2 parts; a 13+ acre County part and a 4+ acre Town part. Only the County part would eventually become the “DREAM PARK” by 2010. The planned community center for the Town part was subject to voter approval on the coming ballot referendum. Also not said by Neavill, was the fact that this “DREAM PARK” was not solely for use by the Town, but open to all the County’s 21 communities and their residents.
The previous Mayor Chait had agreed that the Berkeley Heights tax payers would pay for all of the operating and maintenance costs of this “DREAM PARK” in perpetuity.
How did this “DREAM PARK” evolve? The following abbreviated history is what I have been able to discover.
About 1995 - 96, Mayor Palladino was negotiating to purchase this 17+ acre Stanford Drive parcel for $5 million ( $294,118/ acre ), but was unable to convince fellow Committee Persons of the wisdom of such a purchase.
In mid 2000, Mayor Cohen issued an ordinance for $5 million to purchase the same 17+ acre parcel consisting of 9 of the Block 1901 Lots 1,2,3,51,52,53,54,55 and 56 and the enclosed street, Stanford Drive, but it never came to fruition.
In late 2002, a non-binding referendum was placed on the ballot for the construction of a community center at an unknown location, but was defeated 1988 to 1930.
In late 2004, Mayor Chait entered into an interlocal agreement to allow the County to purchase the aforementioned 9 lots and street, 17+ acres, for $13 million ( $750,230 / acre ) and then sell Lots 1,3 and a part of lot 2, 4+ acres to the Town for $5 million ( $1,111,358 / acre ).
The remaining lots and street, on which they intended to construct ball fields, cost the County only $8 million ( $623,539 / acre ). The Town was to construct a community center on their part. Mayor Chait agreed to the perpetual maintenance of the entire property by the Town.
In early 2005, Mayor Cohen issued an ordinance for $6 million for the construction of a Municipal Complex with senior citizen and community centers at some unknown location.
Later in 2005, the County completed the purchase of the above mentioned 17+ acre parcel for $13 million. A subsequent minor subdivision of Block 1901 created the following: Lots 1.01 and 1.03 ( 4+ acres ) which were sold to the Town for $5 million and the County retained Lot 1.02 ( 13+ acres ).
In mid 2007, Mayor Cohen issued a $10 million bond ordinance, including monies for the construction of a community center, using about $100,000 from the $6 million Municipal Complex bond for architectural renderings for the proposed Stanford Drive center. The remaining portion of the $6 million bond was canceled at this time. County Prosecutor Romankow stated that conditions at the Town Police Headquarters were deplorable and should have priority over any community center. A legal action quickly ensued, implicitly supported by Mayor Cohen, to negate petitions for a ballot referendum on the $10 million bond. Tax payer intervention in the action resulted in the bond being put on a referendum.
In mid 2008, Mayor Cohen granted the County both temporary and permanent easements across the Town Lots for construction purposes and a permanent access road to the County parking lot in perpetuity. This access road bisection will greatly diminish the future utility of the Town’s 4+ acres, land locking about half of the entire parcel.
In November 2008, the $10 million bond referendum with the funds for the community center was defeated 3303 to 2280.
In June 2010, Mayor Woodruff issued an ordinance vacating the Stanford Drive street.
Mayor Cohen and Mayor Chait are gone from our Town Government, but their LEGACY remains:
1. the tax payer annual expenses could reach as high as $200,000 to $300,000 for operating and maintaining the County “DREAM PARK” in perpetuity, not including the replacement cost of the artificial turf;
2. the tax payer annual expense of approximately $275,000 for principal and interest on the $5 million bond for 20 +years; and
3. the diminished utility of our empty 4+ acre property with a County access road bisecting the parcel.
This recreation complex could be as high as 5% to our annual tax dollars.
Other persons who participated in this financial misadventure are still in our Town Government and in this November election, we voters can and must do something to stop the ongoing existing mismanagement and fiduciary ineptitude.
Vote the Independent Line of Bonacci, McDermid and Riley.