SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Borough Council Monday night formalized its intent to purchase the site of the former Gaston Avenue Bakery at the corner of Gaston Avenue and E. Cliff Street and build a new firehouse/public safety complex to serve the eastern section of the borough.
By a vote of 6-0, lawmakers passed an ordinance that reads:
“Authorizing the acquisition by negotiated purchase of eminent domain of property identified as Block 73 Lot 16.02, also known as 85-101 North Gaston Avenue, Somerville, New Jersey, for the Public Purpose of utilizing for public facilities.”
Passage of the ordinance means the borough can now begin negotiations in earnest.
There was no public comment on the ordinance at the meeting.
The tract also includes a vacant residence behind the bakery building that faces on to East Cliff Street; adjacent to the bakery building are a vacant building that used to be a bank and a vacant one-story office building further north on Gaston Avenue.
The 1.77-acre tract has been marketed as 85-101 Gaston Ave. and listed online by various realtors; at one time the sales price was listed at $1.95M. The bakery closed more than five years ago.
“For decades, the emergency services in Somerville have struggled with how to plan for the future,” explained Mayor Brian Gallagher. “About 12 years ago, plans were crafted and different sites identified, but for one reason or another, all of those sites evaporated.”
Gallagher revealed that there have already been “soft discussions” with the property owner.
“The ordinance formalizes the borough’s ability to negotiate with the property owner,” Gallagher explained. “Our hope and intent is to negotiate fairly; should it not come to a successful outcome the borough is prepared to evaluate other options which could include condemnation as stated in the ordinance,” he added.
“This property came on the radar a few years ago; our Emergency Services Committee, which is comprised of representatives of the borough’s first responder community, evaluated the site and came back with a recommendation. They were in full agreement amongst all the services – fire, police and first aid,” Gallagher said.
“They concluded this was an ideal location for an Emergency Services complex,” he added. “The first goal is property acquisition; then we can begin to make decisions. Their role will be to identify what facilities could relocate.”
There are issues with some of the borough’s emergency services buildings, according to Gallagher. Engine Company No. 1 is located in a flood zone, and the doors of West End Hose Company, which shares its building with Central Hook & Ladder, opens on to the borough’s Parking Lot #2.
The borough’s emergency services are scattered throughout town.
A firehouse on Division Street built in late 1800s was taken out of service a few years ago; West End Hose Company and Central Hook & Ladder Company share a building on West High Street; Lincoln Hose Company is on located on Warren Street; Engine Company No. 1 is on the corner of East Main and Veterans Memorial Drive East; the First Aid and Rescue Squad is on Park Avenue within walking distance of Engine Company No. 1 and Police Headquarters are located at 24 So. Bridge St.
“It’s our job to make sure our emergency services are prepared for what the future is bringing, and we want to stay ahead of it,” the mayor said. “Our emergency services are the jewel of Somerset County, they are the go to people in a crisis situation and we need to ensure that we maintain that same level of preparedness; our facilities are a part of that. We need to ensure that the equipment, facilities and training that these men and women have is commensurate with the risks they take.”
Gallagher also said that he is anxious to see the corner cleaned up; Gaston Avenue is a major corridor into the borough from Route 22 and Route 28.
“It’s an eye sore, it’s been vacant for several years. It’s blighted and looks awful.”