LIVINGSTON, NJ — After hearing mixed comments from residents about the possible relocation of the West Essex YMCA to the S. Livingston Avenue property that currently houses Livingston’s Grace Lutheran Church, the Livingston Township Council adopted an ordinance on Monday allowing the planning board to move forward with its consideration of a proposed redevelopment plan in that location.
The council adopted a resolution in December that designated the property as “an area in need of redevelopment” and called upon Beacon Planning and Consulting Services, LLC to prepare a redevelopment plan that has since been reviewed by the council. Prior to final adoption, the Livingston Planning Board must now review the redevelopment plan and transmit its recommendations to the council prior for further consideration.
Despite concerns from neighboring residents that mainly focused on increased noise and traffic that may occur if the YMCA were to relocate to that area, consultations with the planner and the township’s redevelopment counsel led to the council’s belief that adopting the redevelopment plan would be in the best interest of the township and would best facilitate the appropriate development of the S. Livingston Avenue property. With council members Michael Vieira and Rudy Fernandez recused from the vote due to conflicts of interest, the remaining three council members unanimously voted to approve the ordinance following last week's public hearing.
“For people who are wondering if this is the best use of the property, you have to remember what the alternative could have been,” said Mayor Shawn Klein. “The most likely alternative would have been high-density housing, and having the Y come there kind of shields that neighborhood from having to have the threat of that being built…If you think about it from that point of view, once you have high-density housing, you're going to have all the same problems with the outdoor lights—and even more so, I think—as well as dumpsters and all the rest of it. So this is sort of a quieter, less-dense usage of that property than it would have been otherwise…
“The Y wants to be good neighbors, and they’re motivated to be good neighbors—that’s sort of their stock-in-trade. I think that if there are complaints, whether it's noise or light, they're going to want to make sure that the neighbors are happy. That's just the kind of people they are, so I'd be optimistic about the relationship.”
Township Manager Barry Lewis further explained that although the township had previously satisfied its second-round affordable housing obligations, the state and courts then imposed a third round of requirements. Despite settling a recent court case with the Fair Share Housing Corporation, a nonprofit that came to Livingston with expert opinions about the need for an additional 800 units of affordable housing, Lewis said the land currently housing the Grace Lutheran Church was “definitely one of the pieces of property that was under threat for that third round.”
However, Lewis also agreed that traffic, noise pollution and other issue that may arise from relocating the West Essex YMCA to a property closer to residential neighborhoods are all valid concerns and urged residents to raise those concerns during the Livingston Planning Board’s public hearings.
“The planning board has the authority to impose certain conditions in terms of hours of operation and things of that nature,” said Lewis. “These are all very valid concerns, but when the planning board holds its public hearing and at that point there is an actual plan, […] that's where the real opportunity to address them and regulate and impose conditions exists.”
In addition to asking questions during those meetings, Lewis also urged residents to make suggestions such as what types of trees or fencing would create the best buffer between the facility and neighboring houses as well as the appropriate times and days to host festivals or other outdoor events—all of which are among the main concerns.
“We are a little more than half a block away from the current Y, and we still can hear noise,” one resident said during last week’s public hearing. “So when it's going to be in your backyard, there is nothing you can put there to prevent the noise. It's not possible—it's in your backyard, literally, so it's just not the right thing to do to your residents.”
Stating that her own property is “maybe 50 yards” from the property in question, Berkeley Place resident Rita Gesualdo said she and her neighbors are extremely concerned about the negative impact the new structure could have on their neighborhood.
“It devalues our neighborhood—it really does,” said Gesualdo, who also posed concerns about water runoff. “I know it's prime property and you have to put it there, but as far as the noise from megaphones and festivals all day long, that's what we're going to be putting up with…It's a difference from having a church and a house and green grass to now having blacktop and megaphones and lights.”
Roseanne Cavanaugh, a resident and a YMCA member, expressed with certainty that moving it to the proposed property would be “very detrimental to all the people that live around it.”
“I firmly feel this is not the place for the YMCA,” she said, adding that she has “grave concerns” about the possibility of a considerable increase in traffic surrounding Berkeley Place and the other residential streets located nearby. “To me, that is the most important part because it's a safety issue. Everything else is important to me as an individual and a homeowner here, but the traffic situation, I think, is very important to the whole community…I firmly feel this is not the place for the YMCA.”
As the council member who has been sitting in on most of the planning meetings, Deputy Mayor Ed Meinhardt affirmed that traffic is the YMCA’s “biggest and first concern.”
“That's one of the reasons why the egress was made only onto Livingston Avenue with that one intention in mind,” he said. “I know there's going be a lot more discussions coming up about traffic, and I certainly understand those concerns, but I just want to let you know that the Y has really, really gone very far to try to make sure that all the neighbors in the area will be taken care of, that the traffic will not be crazy and that the egresses will only be on Livingston Avenue...
“I certainly appreciate all the neighbors’ voices and opinions that came out this evening and came out in a meeting that the town also held a few weeks ago to listen to the neighbors. I know that their concerns will be brought up and discussed and heard at the planning board meeting, and I know that the Y will become a very good neighbor to all these people and will also listen to and respect the neighborhood that they're moving into.”
Reiterating that the YMCA “has been extremely sensitive to the neighbors” throughout the process so far, Lewis also expressed confidence that YMCA representatives would continue to take all concerns into consideration moving forward.
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