According to the resident survey the Township did last year asking for the public’s input to the town’s Master Plan, residents overwhelming expressed the desire for a vibrant, walkable downtown with entertainment, dining and shopping available. Are you aware there is a push to expand the already approved retail space at Connell Center? The township planner and several of our elected officials have spoken in support of this effort saying it is in the best interest of our community.
I encourage you to learn more, and attend tonight's Council meeting to get your questions answered. The information can be found here: https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_05122020-650
- 2015 Connell presented the idea of adding residential buildings and requested rezoning. Their plan included a public park and walking/running loop.
- 2017 Connell came back with a revised proposal which included shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues such as a movie theatre and bowling alley. Affordable Housing would be included in the residential, and the rezoning of 12 acres was approved.
- 2019 Connell presented a request to rezone the bulk of the property from an office park to Mixed Use, permitting residential, research and offices for all lots between Oak Way and Plainfield Avenue. Part of the proposal approval for another 100,000 square feet of retail space.
When asked by residents why this is necessary, we have been told that the current zoning does not permit Connell to build the public park that was presented, which includes a dog park, playground, and field. This is curious, because they have already constructed a public park, The Grove, and the public running/walking loop. Our planner has explained that a cohesive zone is better from a planning perspective. However, I ask better for who? Better for Connell, certainly.
For reference, this is the area of Connell’s property that is being rezoned – current 3 zones will be changed to “MU – Mixed-Use”.
We have been told that this is only a step in a long process, and that the project has not yet been approved. However, in my 27 years in Berkeley Heights I have learned that once the initial permissions are granted, the landowner has a “right” to build within the zone and the only thing to be decided are specific details. We need to make sure that the actions taken now are in the best interest for the town. The permission to build apartments and retail was done in 2017, and can’t be undone. Connell could already be in construction for this development and instead they are requesting more. The township could grant them additional flexibility in zoning the western end of the property, and retain control over future developments in the current office park.
This is your opportunity to be informed and ask questions. We have very few opportunities, especially when compared to the access developers have to our local government. As this may adversely impact our downtown, and will certainly adversely impact traffic on Diamond Hill, Valley, Glenside and Plainfield, I encourage all residents to attend this evening’s meeting.
Articles regarding public presentations Connell Corporations made at township meetings are:
2019 Comments from former council member regarding proposal https://www.tapinto.net/towns/berkeley-heights/articles/former-councilman-connell-s-main-street-plan-offers-opportunities-risk-to-berkeley-heights