We are nearing the end of 2020, and what a year it has been! Resiliency and strength-- two words never had more meaning than in the last 8+ months.
November proved to be one of our most grueling as we navigate through the second wave of the pandemic as a Township, witnessing a significant number of Covid-19 community cases. This outbreak, particularly among students, caused fully remote learning in the high school temporarily, and a 14-day pause on outdoor sports following the Halloween holiday Covid outbreak. During the peak of the Spring Coronavirus cases, the Township’s highest number of single-day cases was 9 community cases. By November 6th, a new high of 13 community cases broke an April record and a week later, on November 13th, a new high of 17 new community cases in a single day. Overall, the Township had 144 new Covid-19 community cases alone—exclusive of vulnerable population institute (VPI) cases-- in the last 30 days, with an overall total of 517 community and VPI cases since March 9th.
We cannot be complacent. While we are much better prepared and educated, we also must slow the spread of the virus today as we did during the first wave:
- Wear a mask
- Socially Distance
- Sanitize your hands
Yet, the pandemic cannot stop us as we continue to move the Township forward.
The completion of the Municipal Complex is becoming a reality. The Township will formally give a TCO (temporary certificate of occupancy) on December 1 to start moving in new furniture; that process will begin Wednesday of this week. The installation and assembly will take about two weeks and will begin on the first floor. In contrast, the library furniture will take three weeks to install due to more specialized shelving and furniture. Movers are scheduled to start moving existing furniture to the new building on December 7. Our Township Administrator, Liza Viana, is working diligently to move our staff out of the old Town Hall to allow for Phase 2 to begin with the abatement of the Construction/Engineering office. Demolition of this building and the “old” town hall will round out the final phase of the new complex along with final paving of all lots. What is unknown is when the new building will safely be open to the public as State restriction are seemingly tightening because of the holiday periods and expectations of increased Covid cases. For example, indoors are restricted to 10 people and outdoors are restricted to 25 people. The latter set to go into effect 12/5/20 at 6 AM.
I received notification from NJ DEP that the Treatment Works Agreement (TWA) was approved, the last agency approval and hurdle required for the closing on the old Little Flower Church property with the developer, Tolls Brothers. At the time of the closing, the Township will receive $10.5 million for the land that will be used to directly offset debt incurred on the Municipal Complex.
As we move forward and try to find the balance between public health safety and some normalcy, I am happy to report on December 12th, Santa Claus is coming to Town - though in a safe “pandemic holiday” fashion. Be on the lookout for Berkeley Heights PBA #144 registration on the Township’s website, PBA#144 Facebook page @PBA144, reposted on @MayorAngie on Facebook, and @Mayorangiedevanney on Instagram if you would like Santa to drive by your family’s home. Santa will be taking on some additional duties this year so stay tuned to find out what happens! Later that evening, the Recreation Department and the Township will hold a virtual tree lighting and caroling in accordance with the Governor’s new executive order issued today, again, limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people. Therefore, no crowds will be allowed to congregate. Also in the works is a menorah lighting event, which is still being programmed. Both of these events will be broadcast via Facebook Live and via another livestream method. Please enjoy these activities from the comfort of your home to keep your neighbors safe. More details on logistics to come. Remember, holiday pajamas optional while viewing from home—get comfortable, Berkeley Heights!
Discussion on the Connell zoning were ongoing in 2020 during the pandemic and subsequent outbreaks. Last week, the Township Council introduced zoning adjustments for Connell Corporate Park that includes a reduction of retail space from 250,000 square feet to 190,000 square feet. A reduction of smaller retails spaces was made in order to not compete with our local downtown businesses. Changes made will allow all residents (not just residents of Connell Park) to enjoy new outdoor spaces to be built including a dog park originally presented in early 2019, playground spaces and the expansive walking/running trail that has now been completed The opening of the green spaces to the public are all still subject to the approval of the zoning ordinance in December. Moreover, the latest estimates of the local tax revenue to the Township portion of the project is over $364,000 annually, which is pledged to offset the debt on the Municipal Complex.
Throughout the month, though they were unprecedented events, we did manage to celebrate our veterans on Veteran’s Day, and the Festival of Lights during Diwali with our South Asian Indian neighbors. Senior bingo carried on under the tents of our generous local restaurant owners, Delicious Heights and DiMaios. And we expanded senior exercise program to the Atrium at the Embassy Hotels thanks to the Connell Company and the Recreation Department.
Planning for our many paving projects occurred and construction has started for most-- or are imminent-- on Cottage Street, the train station parking lot and finishing paving in the area around Woodruff School, including Ferndale, Fay, Hastings and Greenbriar, plus a project on Plainfield (north of Springfield Avenue), Lincoln and Washington. Plus, exciting news this month from NJ DOT awarding the Township $345,000 to repaving Riceman, College, Saw Mill West and Powderhorn.
As always, please reach out to me on Facebook @MayorAngie, Instagram @mayorangiedevanney, e-mail email@example.com or at Town Hall 908-464-2700 if I can be of assistance. Please stay safe everyone, and we will soon be together celebrating all this wonderful community has to offer.