Berkeley Heights is in the process of approving several major redevelopment projects. Between agreements with developers to redevelop properties at Kings (New York Mart), Hamilton Avenue (Little FlowerChurch), Berkeley Cinema and the Connell Center, we will see hundreds of new apartment units built in town over the next few years. These projects are, to some degree, forced upon us by our new, legal requirement to build new affordable housing units.
Developers stand to make considerable profit off of these projects, but the overall benefit to our community is limited. If we’re going to approve these agreements, we ought to do everything we can to maximize the benefit to our town – and as of right now, we’re not.To change that, we’re proposing developers pay a Community Impact Fee so that our community benefits in additional ways from this development. Here’s how it would work:
To enable developers to make a profit off these projects, the Mayor and current Township Council are approving temporary tax breaks for them, called PILOT agreements (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes). If elected to the Council, we would insist that as part of any PILOT agreement, the developer agree to pay what is called a Community Impact Fee. This has been done by other New Jersey towns as a means to ensure the developers give something back to the communities being affected by their projects.
By charging a reasonable rate of $300/unit built, we can generate nearly $200,000 a year in new revenue during the life of the PILOT agreement– none of it from raising taxes or cutting critical services! We propose to use the Community Impact Fee to fully restore and upgrade our sports and recreational fields. Berkeley Heights families have known for years that our sports fields are in very poor shape compared to neighboring towns where our kids compete – theirs are better maintained and have much better amenities, despite the hard work of our Recreation Department and PAL volunteers.
By creating the Community Impact Fee, we will ensure Berkeley Heights has playing fields worthy of our great town. When we say we’re fighting for Change We Can Agree On, this is precisely the kind of new perspective we would bring to the Township Council.
As taxpayers, we’ve invested a great deal to make our community a great place for our families. Isn’t it time our Township Council listened to and invested in our priorities? If you want to improve our playing fields and parks – for our kids, our quality of life, and our future – then we ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 7th. Vote Poage & Medeiros, Column A for Change We Can Agree On!
Message from Susan & Alvaro: Thank you to Berkeley Heights Republican leader and Council candidate John Leo for putting town before party and supporting us! We need to bring our community together and make sure all voices are heard, and that’s why Republicans like John are for #ChangeWeCanAgreeOn!
This election year, we face real challenges that we need to overcome: better long-term planning, upgrading infrastructure such as our roads, paths and sports fields, building a more sustainable downtown that keeps private businesses strong and supportive of the community, and more. To meet these challenges requires leadership that respects the views of all residents and is committed to greater inclusion and transparency. As residents it is our right and responsibility to maintain an awareness of the decisions our town government makes while also making the personal effort to get involved.
There absolutely is an “agreeable center” if the right people create the context to make this possible. Successful township governments are inviting and communicative. Among our neighboring townships we can find YouTube videos of mayors giving periodic resident briefings or councils providing budget presentations on which residents can submit to Q&A sessions. A quick comparison summarizes my first political canvassing experience. From witnessing the local government process in town hall meetings and hearing what a resident has to say, the answers lay with our people. They are intelligent and willing to provide input but when our council actively worked to remove referendum and provide few avenues for input it is demoralizing to the community.
The driving concern is with an all too common attitude against public opinion and dissenting views. Like the Mayor and Council, I am a Republican; as a Republican, I believe a major conservative value is to trust the people to make the right decisions. Echoing a national problem, skeptical viewpoints, sometimes in the minority are suppressed or ignored when there is in fact merit in those positions. I will stand by any leadership that provides an opportunity for discussion before decisions are made so that public fallout or resentment does not follow.
These are not Democratic or Republican challenges, they are our challenges. It was out of a desire to do my part to help us overcome these challenges that I ran for Township Council earlier this year. I still believe that sincere, accountable leadership must find our collective voice as a community and bring us together to make needed changes. The current governing body has fallen short in creating that needed unity. Despite having six years of full control they have not taken the right steps in many areas where our town needed action. Municipal improvements have not been handled or explained well while our township debt more than doubles. Meanwhile, other important priorities have been neglected or met with half-measures.
Since the primary, I have listened to the candidates and their respective visions for the kind of change we need. Change is needed if we are going to move our town in a better direction: change that requires all of us to have a voice in the future of our town, and leaders that recognize the importance of this. Having spoken with Susan Poage and Alvaro Medeiros, I firmly believe they are the right candidates to bring about this change. That is why I am endorsing their candidacy for Township Council, and am urging all Independents and open-minded Republicans to choose people over Party by voting for them on November 7.
I am confident that Susan and Alvaro will ask the tough questions, work to give every resident a voice, and promote common-sense proposals to overcome the challenges we face. Their backgrounds as a beloved local teacher and a corporate executive, respectively, make them an excellent team to provide diverse leadership in our town. Their desire to stand up now and run for the Township Council, as Democrats eager to work with Republicans and Independents to make change happen, proves they want to move our town forward in a positive, forward-looking direction. United. Not divided.
I do not agree with Susan and Alvaro in some aspects, party affiliation included. To their credit, however, they are approaching the challenges we face from the position of promoting common sense values: fixing our roads efficiently, questioning borrowing before engaging debt, forming a special taskforce to develop practical ideas to improve our downtown and establish reasonable, long-term planning, actively working with county and state leaders to bring back more of our tax dollars, and more. Susan and Alvaro’s campaign is strong evidence of the desire to directly engage with residents on all available mediums, specifically public platforms. Though it is difficult decision, their presence on the council satisfies my conservative values.
We need leaders with the humility to point to other towns who have moved in the right direction and emulate their progress. We need leaders who will evaluate the benefits and risks of major decisions as individuals, not simply to go along with a group, while welcoming the views of residents to bring in their own, valuable expertise and opinions. If we are going to have a successful future, someone needs to ask tough questions or else we may suffer unforeseen consequences. Susan and Alvaro possess the necessary perspective and qualities that can make this possible.
Please join me in voting for the best choices in this general election, Susan Poage and Alvaro Medeiros, on November 7. With our help they will begin moving us towards the kind of unity, transparency and accountability we need in local government. I encourage all residents to visit their website, http://www.changewecanagreeon.com to learn more about them and their platform of Change We Can Agree On.
The Berkeley Heights Education Foundation (BHEF) recently announced that Susan Poage, council for Berkeley Heights Township Council, was among the winners of this year’s The Marsha Miller award.
The award, which is given to a team of teachers at MaryKay McMillin Early Childhood Center in Berkeley Heights, is given each year to the grant that exemplified outstanding innovation. This year the BHEF chose the Imagination Playground for this honor. This grant was the largest grant BHEF has ever awarded. Susan conceived and wrote the grant and then encouraged a kindergarten teacher, a special education teacher, the physical education teacher and her principal, Anne Corley, to create the team to file the application.
“I was so honored to receive the Marsha Miller Award for Innovative Grants from the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation,” said Susan. “The grant for the Imagination Playground was a long shot because it was must more costly than the BHEF usually awards, but you have to be in it to win it! These are the same materials one would find at Liberty Science Center. It is amazing to watch the children interact with these materials in our very own gym.
This is the second time Susan has won the Marsha Miller Award from the BHEF. Her grant of the MaryKay McMillin Post Office program was also a winner a few years ago.
One of the most important reasons we are running for Township Council is that we need to do a much better job of informing and engaging residents on what is going on in our town. We believe it is our job to go out into the community and meet with residents, informing them and listening to what they have to say; not for you to come to us.
As we’ve gone door-to-door across town in recent months, we’ve found that most residents have heard little or nothing about most of the major actions being taken by the Mayor and Council, including:
Making sure residents understand the phasing of the development and what municipal services could be impacted, such as the library downsizing.
Communicating major development projects to the entire town when they appear before our planning board, such as the new 7-story apartment complex will be built at the Connell Center.
Repaving of our roads is a major complaint; however, the current plan will take 15 years to implement.
Whether or not we agree or disagree with these actions is not the issue; what matters is that town residents deserve to know about them.
We are committed to building on the progress finally being made and doing much more beyond it, including:
Fully embracing social media to engage residents and ask for their input, before taking action on important issues.
Creating an e-newsletter.
Saving money from a print newsletter by having the “Mayor’s Roundtable” done for free.
Holding occasional weekend meetings, not just on the Municipal Complex, in order to attract more residents at a more convenient time for them.
Ensure we have a township website worthy of the 2010s, which means it must be mobile friendly and enable residents to access information more easily.
You deserve a voice in the future of our town. That’s Change We Can Agree On and it’s why we ask for your vote! Please join Democrats, Republicans and Independents in voting for Poage & Medeiros, Column A on November 7th!
We recently met with our daily hometown heroes at the Berkeley Heights Volunteer Rescue Squad and then with the Berkeley Heights Fire Department. Many thanks to Joe Plocinski and Jim Hopkins, respectively, for setting these visits up and for their hospitality. The volunteers in both organizations are true heroes devoting long hours of complete service and sacrifice often at risk to their own safety in order to help, save, and rescue our community from misfortune. These are also some of the busiest volunteers around; they both rank among the highest volumes in the county.
The Rescue Squad, led by Howie Meyer, welcomed us to a monthly meeting this week, at which we had an opportunity to hear from members about what concerns them, as well as answer questions about our focus if elected to the town council. Chief among their concerns is the ability to attract volunteers, especially adult volunteers. As can be readily seen in the many signs posted around town, they are actively recruiting and every member of the community should seriously consider joining. We took it as a personal challenge to come up with ideas to help them achieve this goal.
Another concern is pensions: Berkeley Heights and Summit are the only two towns in the county that do not offer any pension. What sort of message does that send to these heroes?
Jim Hopkins, deputy chief and fire inspector, gave us a fact-filled and informative tour of the Fire Department shortly before joining Tower 1 and Engine 4 for realistic training at a house that is set to be demolished. This laser focus on training and practice is what sets this Fire Department apart from – and ahead of – its peers in terms of expertise and ability to serve in a wide variety of situations. Under the leadership of Tony Padovano, the 50-plus, all-volunteer members all are filled with a passion to serve and learn with enthusiasm and dedication. Here’s just one testament to that dedication: One member we spoke with was working and would attend some of the nights training exercise before joining his wife to celebrate their anniversary.
We cannot thank these truly outstanding heroes in our community enough and we should encourage each other and our families to emulate their examples of service. In the very least, we should all be sure to attend their fundraising functions and contribute to their fund drives.
For our part, when elected, Susan and I will will do everything possible to ensure their place of recognition and gratitude by the township leadership, and work toward getting them the necessary funding they need to continue their life-saving work. We commit to seizing every opportunity possible to recognize them as the Hometown Heroes they truly are.
The Rescue Squad always needs volunteers, both medical and auxiliary. If you are interested in joining or would like additional information, please click http://bhvrs.org/?page_id=13
Easily the most frequent complaint I hear as I go door-to-door to introduce myself to Berkeley Heights residents is that we need to do something about the Berkeley Heights roads. This is especially true when anyone lives near the border of New Providence, where good streets clearly meet the bad ones. And it’s even worse when we see so many of the county and state roads being paved to perfection while our streets continue to crumble.
This has been an ongoing problem for many years and there has been little progress to show for it. Meanwhile our current Town Council has reacted pretty meekly by shifting money within the budget to do more paving and patching this year leaving less budget for future repairs.
This is too little TOO LATE! We still have a 15-year waiting list for resident road repairs! We believe this is a major enough pain that it deserves investment.
So what can we do about this problem?
The answer lies in a bond – a road bond. Tax-free bonds are attractive to investors and a well-established method of funding public infrastructure across the U.S.
As of 2015, it would cost $11 million for contractors to repave all the roads in BH, per the Township’s study conducted at that time. About 20% of the roads have been repaved since then, which leaves about $8 million of road repair work remains to be done.
If elected, we would encourage the Town Council to authorize General Obligation to fund the accelerated work needed to completely repave and repair all of our roads by 2025; to minimize the tax impact, we would spread the financing over an eight-year period prioritizing the most disastrous roads.
Based on current and projected interest rates, a single $8M Bond would increase taxes approximately $25 per year on the average household to pay for the bond but spreading the cost over multiple bond issues and a few years we think that we could keep that much lower. For less than the cost of a tank of gas and much less than the cost of pot-hole related auto damage or personal injury, we could get more roads fixed sooner.
Let’s invest wisely and deliver better quality of roads to our deserving townspeople.
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Come join us for a fantastic evening of performances by world-class singers, actors and musicians from Berkeley Heights and neighboring New Providence!
On Thursday, October 5, beginning at 7:30, the Berkeley Heights Democrats are hosting a musical evening at the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts. Event-goers can enjoy the entertainment, light refreshments and learn about Susan Poage and Alvaro Medeiros, our Democratic candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council; the election is on Nov. 7. Longtime active members of our community, Susan and Alvaro will talk about their vision of Change We Can Agree On for our wonderful town. Friends from neighboring towns are welcomed to come out for a magical night of music!
Take a look at the talented local artists who will be performing for you:
CAITLIN ALONGI, soprano, has been praised by the Two River Times for her “gorgeous voice, nigh perfect pitch, and thrilling high notes.” Ms. Alongi was most recently seen as Johanna in Sweeney Todd with Light Opera of NJ. Past productions include West Side Story (Maria), Into The Woods (Cinderella), Les Misérables (Cosette), The Music Man (Marian), Anything Goes (Hope), Kismet (Marsinah), Hello, Dolly!, Tosca, Suor Angelica, Street Scene, The Merry Widow, and Il Tabarro, among others. Caitlin lives in Westfield with her husband and their sweet little girl, and maintains an active voice and piano studio. Bachelor of Music from Mason Gross School of the Arts.
JOANNA HOTY RUSSELL is a performer, stage/music director and private voice educator for over 24 years in NJ. Currently she is in her third season as the Music Director of The Larks[sponsored by the Junior League of Summit] and was recently appointed Conductor of Shir Libeinu of Temple Sinai, in Summit. Joanna proudly serves as President of Light Opera of NJ, responsible for show selection, casting, administrative, technical and production elements. She also serves as Music Director for Footlights, llc, a children’s theatre program in Martinsville, conducting Seussical, Jr., Shrek, Jr, Into the Woods, Jr, Once on This Island, Jr, High School Musical, Jr, Annie, Jr and Honk, Jr .As a performer, Joanna has sung a wide range of musical theatre and operatic roles, including: Miss Andrew (Mary Poppins), Muzzy (Thoroughly Modern Millie), 2nd Lady (Magic Flute), La Zia Principessa (Suor Angelica) and Domina (A Funny Thing Happened…..). Stage and Musical directing credits include: Aladdin, Jr(Stage and Musical director), Amahl & the Night Visitors (Stage Director), and The True Story of Cinderella(Stage Director).
JULIE WALDMAN-STIEL, a native Californian, left home to pursue a theater career in NYC. Since arriving. she has performed in the National Tour of Cats (Grizabella US), Fiddler on the Roof (Tzeitel US) starring Topol and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Featured Vocalist) starring Michael Crawford. She was an entertainer at Tokyo Disneyland and has also performed her one woman show on various cruise ships. Other regional/community theater credits: Sunset Boulevard (Norma), Evita (Eva), Triumph of Love (Hesione), The Graduate (Mrs. Robinson), Little Women(Marmee), I Do, I Do (Agnes), City of Angels (Donna/Oolie) Into the Woods (Witch), Oliver (Nancy).
MADISON WASHER attended Westminster Choir College and graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre with a concentration in voice performance from Montclair State University. She has worked with various theater companies in the NY and NJ area for the past 6 years, most recently worked with White Plains Performing Arts Company in the NY Regional Premier of Heathers, where she played the role of Miss. Fleming. She also recently finished a holiday contract with the NJ and NYC Yuletide Carolers. Other recent roles include Petra in NJ Light Opera’s production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, Percy Talbott in Hackensack Cultural arts Centers production of Spitfire Grill, Mary Poppins, in YArts Theatre company’s production of Mary Poppins and Nancy in Montclair Operetta Clubs production of Oliver. When Madison is not on the stage she works as the Youth Program and Event Director at the Montclair Golf Club in West Orange and teaches voice and dance at various studios around NJ.
JENNA ROSE RAVENDRA is a graduate of New Jersey City University with a degree in Music Education and a concentration in classical and musical theatre voice. She is a private voice and piano instructor in North Jersey and an active performer in NY/NJ. Some favorite credits include Urinetown (Little Sally), Spelling Bee (Olive/Logainne), Little Shop of Horrors (Audrey), Les Misérables (Cosette), The Secret Garden (Lily), and Little Women (Jo March). She is currently performing with NYSOM, The Music of Billy Joel and has spent countless hours in the recording studio doing original music but also in collaboration with GKM, Sony Records, and The Metropolitan Opera. Jenna has appeared in the USA World Showcase at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas where she took first place in “Best Original Song.” Additionally, she has performed with the Encore Orchestra of New Jersey and at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and NJPAC where she had the pleasure of opening for Kool and The Gang.
KEN MAGOS is thrilled to join these incredibly talented colleagues onstage! Opera/Concert Highlights (US and Italy): principal roles in Boris Godunov, Samson et Dalilah, La Fanciulla del West, Rodelinda, Il Turco in Italia, Werther, Carmen, Maskerade, Taming of the Shrew, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Aida, Il Trovatore, Tenor Soloist in Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Mozart’s Requiem, multiple Three Tenors concerts throughout the NY/NJ/CT region, command performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Theater Highlights:Sweeney Todd (Sweeney) at SOPAC, The Apple Tree (God) at the Chicago Theater, South Pacific (Emile de Becque), Deathtrap (Sidney), Spamalot (King Arthur), Light in the Piazza (Sr. Naccarelli), Boys from Syracuse (Antipholus from Syracuse), My Fair Lady (Freddy), Rapunzel’s Song(Joshua, world premiere), Sunday in the Park with George (Soldier/Lee Randolph), Follies (Ben Stone), Footloose (Rev. Shaw), Evita, A Christmas Carol. Film/TV:Dangerous Affections (w/ Judith Light and Jimmy Smits), Plain Clothes(w/Arliss Howard and Loren Dean), Delco Radio commercial (w/ The Beach Boys). He is the Series Creator and Host of the NJTV/PBS series Drive By History produced by SMTWTV. He teaches voice privately in Maplewood and NYC, and on faculty at Seton Hall University.
DAVID SIMON has been performing with various theater groups for over three decades. Locally, he has performed with 4th Wall Theater, Light Opera of New Jersey, Summit Playhouse, Chatham Players, Cranford Dramatic Club, Montclair Operetta Club and The Village Light Opera Group in New York. Favorite roles in dude Tateh (Ragtime), Chairman (Drood), Barfee (25th Annual … Spelling Bee), Cogswoth (Beauty and the Beast), Finch (How to Succeed), Britt Craig (Parade), Guiteau (Assassins), Andrews (Titanic), Professor Bhaer (Little Women), Charlemagne (Pippin) and several of the comic baritone roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. By day, David manages attorney professional development at an international law firm. He grew up in Mountainside and has been a Berkeley Heights resident since 2005. He lives herewith his wife Stacey and his twins Hunter and Hailey.
SUSAN KIRKLANDhas taught choral and vocal music at New Providence High School since 2003. She was recognized as NPHS Teacher of the Year in 2013. She has also taught for Durham Public Schools in NC, UNC-Greensboro, and The Actors Institute in NYC. She has performed with New York City Opera National Company on their national tour of La Bohème, Light Opera New Jersey, Liederkranz, Di Capo, and Des Moines Metro opera companies, American Opera Projects, NYGASP, Opera at Florham and Opera at the Algonquin in NYC. She earned a Bachelor of Music Therapy Degree with concentrations in Voice and Piano from Shenandoah University and her M.M. in Voice Performance from UNC-Greensboro. Last summer, she spent three weeks conducting the American Music Abroad Red Tour Concert Choir throughout Austria, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia.
KAREN CANTOR‘s professional credits include the role of Venus in the long-awaited revival of Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus at the Goodspeed Opera House. She played Louisa in The Fantasticks with the Miami Opera, toured as Susan in The Desert Song with Ron Raines, played the title role in Naughty Marietta in New York City, Josephine in HMS Pinafore, TheMistress in Evita with Carolee Carmello, Anna inTintypes, Maria in The Sound of Music, and Starting Here, Starting Now in the Cayman Islands. On the concert stage, Karen’s credits include West Side Story at the Caramoor Festival, musical comedy selections at Carnegie Recital Hall, and a debut as Cunegonde in Candideat Michigan’s Midland Center for the Arts. On television she has been seen as Katie on ABC’s All My Children. Karen has written and/or directed several New Jersey productions that have met with popular acclaim, including many cabaret shows/revues such as Gershwin Cabaret, Kern Cabaret, and Rodgers & Hart Cabaret(Light Opera of New Jersey), and South Mountain TheatreWorks’ Broadway Broads. Also for South Mountain TheatreWorks, Karen served as Assistant Director of The Rocky Horror Show, and Director of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. A fervent aficionado of The American Songbook, Karen’s cabaret performances have been seen at such spots as “Here’s to the Arts”, “The Dancing Goat”, the “Watchung Arts Center”, and countless private functions, charitable fundraisers, parties, and corporate events. Recent roles include Alaura/Carla in City of Angels, Phyllis in Iolanthe, Liliane LaFleur in Nine, Signora Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza, and Tessie in Gypsy. Karen teaches Musical Theater and Voice at the Elefante School for the Performing Arts in New Providence.
JUSTIN LUCIANO is excited to be a part of this concert with such extraordinary artists! Recent credits includeRock of Ages at The Eagle Theatre and the tour of The Lightning Thiefwith Theatreworks USA. Other favorites are Tony inWest Side Storyat both Interlakes Summer Theatre and Cortland Repertory Theatre, as well as Footloose, Rags, and Columbinus at MMC. BA in Musical Theatre from Marymount Manhattan College.
STACEY SIMON is a full-time immigration attorney which is the main reason she is involved in theater. Favorite roles include: Little Red Ridinghood, Into The Woods; Katherina, Taming of the Shrew; and title role in Roxanne. Stacey is also the VP of Village Light Opera and most importantly, mom to 8-year-old twins Hunter and Hailey
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Berkeley Heights Democrats issued a statement yesterday, condemning the violence committed by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman were killed when one of the extremists plowed his car into a crowd of citizens peacefully protesting their actions, 2 police officers died while patrolling the scene, and many others were assaulted and injured by the marchers, who carried Nazi and Confederate flags and chanted racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slogans as they marched.
“We join with the vast majority of Americans, including most political leaders in both parties, in calling the disgraceful acts in Charlottesville what they are: acts of domestic terrorism, perpetrated by a movement that seeks to dehumanize people of color, Jews and Muslims, and the LGBTQ community,” said George Devanney, Chairman of the Berkeley Heights Democratic Committee. “Their hateful beliefs go against everything our country stands for, and we must have zero tolerance for violence and terror as a political tool to advance their extreme agenda. As Americans, we cherish the values of equality and respect for all, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. We must always speak up and defend those values when they are attacked, as did the victims in Charlottesville.”
Earlier this year, several neighboring towns, such as Chatham Borough, Cranford and Madison passed “Open and Welcoming Resolutions”, which would publicly declare that Berkeley Heights would not “condone or tolerate any form of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religious creed, age, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, physical or mental disability or veteran status.” “We believe the time is right for the Mayor & Council to reexamine this issue and adopt our own Open and Welcoming Resolution,” the statement continued. “It is important that our community officially speaks out against discrimination, not just as ordinary residents.”
While Berkeley Heights Democrats would ordinarily not speak out on national issues, added Devanney, “This is no ordinary time. It is a time for all of us to get involved, and to work together to ensure that the values that make us Americans will triumph over the forces of fear, hate, and violence. We must take action on all levels, locally, statewide and nationally, to make this happen.”
For 4 years, the Mayor and Township Council have been working on a plan to make much-needed improvements to significant parts of our town. Among the most important of these a new Public Library. Since 2015, the Township Council has had a plan to build a new Town Hall, Police Station, Library, and Community Center, at one central location next to the current Town Hall. There is no question in my mind that this plan, while not perfect, is necessary – and it will happen.
The process of getting us there, however, has seen more twists and turns than the riskiest roller coaster at Six Flags. So much of the process – explaining to residents what will take place, when, where, and above all, why – has been handled in such a way as to leave the most residents unaware of what exactly is going on, including important details of the plan that will affect them and their families. Perhaps the biggest “question mark” has been the fate of the Public Library – a safe space for children and families to gather, learn, and enjoy life. But finally, we do know what will happen – 3 weeks after the Township already began to execute its plan.
First, the Library will be forced to vacate by the end of this year. It will be relocated to the adjacent rectory of Church of the Little Flower on Roosevelt Avenue: a building half the size of the library, and without room for most of the books, DVDs/CDs, and other resources that make a library so valuable to a community. A skeletal staff, providing skeletal services (primarily electronic ones), will be housed there from January through July of 2018.
This will happen as part of a mutually beneficial agreement between the Township and Little Flower to exchange properties: Little Flower will use the Public Library for its educational and administrative programs while building a new church next door; the Township will sell the church’s Roosevelt Avenue site to a housing developer as a means of raising revenue to offset the cost of the new Municipal Complex. The Mayor and Council have repeatedly insisted that the Library will remain open until the Municipal Complex is completed, a construction project that will take at least 18 months. (Anyone who has done construction on their house or office knows “at least” always means it will take longer.)
So let’s do that math together: the agreement to move the Public Library only keeps the Library at the rectory for 7 months. At that point the Township is free to close the Library completely – and it will have to, in order to sell the entire church property to the housing developer. This is because our legal settlement to meet our affordable housing obligations includes using the Roosevelt Avenue site. Once these 7 months expire, the Township will need to sell the property as promised, or risk a lawsuit that could trigger a much bigger housing project to be built.
As Council President Faecher stated at the last meeting, it is extremely difficult to move a library to any new location. Efforts to rent a different location have apparently been unsuccessful. Without anywhere else to go, the Public Library will be completely closed for at least 1 year – and that’s assuming the construction project managers magically keep everything on schedule.
Residents who are just now learning these facts, now that it is too late to change them – the Mayor and Council have already given the library its eviction notice, and will vote unanimously to approve the agreement at its August 15th Council meeting – are rightfully outraged at not having been informed or consulted on such an important issue in our community. We should be seeking every possible solution towards finding a new space for the Public Library before those 7 months are up. I speak for many in our town when I say that having no Library at for at least a year is notin the best interest of Berkeley Heights. And leaving most Township residents in the dark about this until this now is simply not acceptable. Telling residents they can always go to a library in another town in the meantime is not acceptable, either.
As our elected representatives, the Mayor and Township Council should always act on behalf of the entire community. Knowing them as I do, I recognize they are trying to help our town in every way they can. But why make such a drastic decision without sufficient input from the people it will affect the most? Why not solicit constructive feedback and ideas from the residents who live here? They need to hear from us, the residents, that their decision to first downsize and then close the Public Library is the wrong thing to do. Their decision will hurt our community’s quality of life when it is not necessary to do so.
This plan will be approved at the next Township Council meeting, on Tuesday, August 15th at 7 PM at Town Hall (29 Park Avenue). If you believe the Mayor and Council should develop a clear plan of action to keep the Public Library open for the entire construction, rather than allowing it to be closed, please attend this meeting. They have said again and again that residents should come to these meetings if they want to be heard – so let’s go and have our voices heard!