Berkeley Aquatic Searches for a New Home; Petition for Special Election Now in Clerk's Hands
Monday, October 1, 2012 • 8:00am
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - For 35 years, Berkeley Aquatic has been a staple in the Berkeley Heights community and now two sides are in a bitter fight to move it.
The facility, which is used for swim practices, lessons, swim meets, lifeguard training and even by Olympic athletes, needs a new home, said Director Jim Wood. For the past eight or nine years, Wood and his partners, BAC Center of Excellence and LLC, have looked at more than 50 sites in search of a new location.
He estimated they have turned down hundreds of kids each year who want to swim there, Wood said.
“We basically wanted to find a spot to build another pool,” Wood said.
After conducting extensive research, they found 25 acres of land off Route 78 in Warren. The plan would be to use 15 acres and Wood said he was quite excited upon finding the property. They had traffic and environmental studies performed and both gave them the approval to use the land.
Wood explained the sewage on the property is zoned for residential, churches, schools and indoor recreational facilities; therefore, they would be in compliance. Some neighbors to the vacant property sued them and lost. Because Berkeley Heights supplies sewage to Warren residents, Wood felt the council would be in favor of this project.
“Berkeley Heights actually has the responsibility to hook us up,” he said.
Wood said he was surprised by the council’s reaction.
According to Wood, when they applied for the extra sewage flow, the town said they do not have sufficient sewer capacity. But, the Berkeley Heights Sewer Authority said everything was OK with the flow, Wood told TheAlternativePress.com. The council then instructed Wood to go to Omni Engineering, the town engineer, who also said there was no problem, Wood relayed.
“Even though our engineering firm and the Sewer Authority from Berkeley Heights all said there was more than enough capacity, the town council and the mayor decided against it,” Wood said.
Wood met with the mayor and the council after it was rejected and was informed that the Omni report said in 20 years they would run out of sewage capacity. But Wood did some digging and alleges that those reports are false and the report actually says there would be 500,000 gallons of extra capacity.
Wood and the BAC are currently suing the town and the legal wrangling is taking much longer than expected, he said.
As the lawsuit continued, Wood and his partners formed a petition for the residents of the community. It can be found at www.backthebac.org and as of Sep. 28, they had obtained enough signatures and will deliver it to the clerk's office for certification. If the signatures are verified and the required number of signatures is confirmed, there will be a special election. Wood said he feels the community would support his view if a special election is held.
“We’re catching a lot of grief on the petition,” he said. “My primary goal has been to help young kids become adults.”
Wood, who said his heart and soul are in the Berkeley Aquatic, is befuddled as to why it is taking so long for it to be approved. This should have been a slam dunk from the beginning, he said.
“I think I was very surprised with the inaccuracy of their reports,” he said. “I’m really disappointed with the town because I think that they would have been a little more upfront with the sewer issue if it was really a sewer issue. I’m disappointed that they told us there was not enough capacity last minute. I’m not really sure what the motivation is behind rejecting it.”
However, Mayor Joseph Bruno feels differently about the issue. Bruno had nothing but praise for Berkeley Aquatic, but really would like to see it stay in the community. The mayor said the new location for the facility is really not in a good spot. While it is right off Route 78, it is quite easy to miss, he said.
“The Berkeley Aquatic is a premier program,” Bruno said. “We’d love to keep it inside Berkeley Heights.”
However, Bruno explained, the major underlying issue is the sewage. Because Berkeley Heights supplies sewage to residents in Warren and not to commercial properties, this would simply open a Pandora’s Box, he said. If they give sewage capacity to Berkeley Aquatic then they would have to renegotiate with Warren, which could take months.
“We can’t just say we’re going to take Berkeley Aquatic and that’s it,” he said. “We would have to take all commercial from Warren.”
While the mayor isn’t sure what the petition will accomplish, he hopes Berkeley Aquatic stays in town.