SOMERVILLE, NJ - Borough officials are inching closer to finalizing plans for a Public Safety complex on the former site of the Gaston Avenue Bakery, with a vacant house on the 1.1-acre property fronting on East Cliff Street slated for demolition in the next few weeks.

Three other buildings on the tract, including the bakery, were demolished earlier this year.

More critical, however, are ongoing conversations that began nearly one year ago, when the borough hired a Virginia real estate advisory firm as the redeveloper of the property. Major stakeholders - police, firefighters, the borough's first aid squad, borough officials, planners and others, including the Somerset County 911 Call Center - gather virtually on a regular basis to exchange individual "wish lists," according to Colin Driver, the borough's director of Economic Development.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed things down, it's impossible to meet face-to-face to talk things through," Dirver said. "There's a lot of moving parts right now.

"We're working through what can be done and what can't be done relative to costs," Driver added. "I'm hoping that by the first week in October we'll have a better idea of what we can do, what the costs will be; I'd say by Christmas we'd have an agreement outlined as to what we're going to build and how we're going to pay for it."

No estimates have been calculated, but it is expected that the costs of the facility will be financed with bonds by the borough and Somerset County, with debt service payments provided by Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, which has agreed to contribute yearly payments of $311,000 through 2023 to the borough in lieu of paying taxes, according to Councilman Granville Brady, Borough Council finance chairman. The hospital is a tax-exempt institution and is not required to pay local taxes.

Still in its conceptual phase, the emergency services facility was expected to combine the borough's police department, fire department, and the Somerset County 911/emergency call center; also under consideration was the borough's first aid squad. A three-story building, with the first floor dedicated to garage bays for emergency vehicles was talked about initially, but according to Mayor Dennis Sullivan, three stories may be one story too high.

"My sense is that it will be less ambitious, not as encompassing as we originally envisioned," Sullivan said. "We don't want to dwarf the neighborhood with a "twin towers.' It has to be built within the framework of the neighborhood."

A real estate investment, development, brokerage and advisory firm, FD Stonewater has more than $10 billion in investment and acquisitions, over 45 million square feet of lease transactions and over $750 million of development for federally-occupied facilities either completed or under construction.