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Berkeley Heights Council Sees Benefits in Pact with YMCA

Liz Keill

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 • 11:10pm

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – An ordinance introduced at the Tuesday, Aug. 6, Township Council meeting will establish a 50-year lease agreement at $50,000 per year with the Summit YMCA. A hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 20.
 
“All of us as citizens will benefit,” Councilman Robert Woodruff said. The lease will allow use of 10 plus acres of vacant land on a 16 acre plot, with a renewal of the lease for an additional 25 years. A 2 percent rate increase for inflation would be built in, but not compounded. “This is not a typical long-term lease agreement,” he said. “It’s viable for them and we’re dealing with a non-profit.”
 
A portion of the land, 6 acres on Hamilton Avenue, is utilized by the Berkeley Heights Volunteer Fire Company.  The YMCA expects to construct and operate a healthy and fitness facility for physical therapy, a café or meal service limited to members and guests, physical training and hospitality services, such as catering for fund raising events. Woodruff said a multi-purpose room would be included, “which would be extremely important to us,” especially for use by senior citizens.
 
The township and the YMCA will enter into an option lease agreement, providing the YMCA a period of 18 months to do its due diligence and obtain required approvals.  At the end of 75 years, the property would revert to the township.
 
One resident asked about a traffic light installation on Long Pine Drive and Snyder Avenue. Woodruff said there is no cross-walk on ‘Springfield Avenue between Snyder and Plainfield avenues. CVS is paying for the light and installation. He said two exits from the Stop & Shop center will be closed off, but the one at the Post Office will remain open. A boulevard will be created at the back of stores, with exits from Lone Pine Drive. “It’s a win/win for the owners and helps attract good neighbors,” Woodruff said. “It fixes a dangerous traffic flow situation.” In addition, he said. residents  who live nearby would be more likely to walk to the stores with easier, safer access.
 
Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley noted that New Providence had traffic issues without a light from a shopping center onto Springfield Avenue. “It’s created a mess without the light. We’re trying to bring a more strategic approach.”
 
Woodruff expressed frustration that many residents don’t read the newspaper or on-line media to follow township issues but instead pick up hearsay at the supermarket. “Each of us has an obligation to read the paper or look at Patch or The Alternative Press on line,” he said.
 
Mayor Joseph Bruno emphasized that “we’re a transparent group.” He encouraged residents to ask questions and come to town hall and speak to him if they have issues. “Don’t let it fester,” Bruno said.
 
A resident asked about dredging of the Passaic River. The mayor said he expects to meet with a county representative in the next two weeks. He said the township has been focusing on clearing up streams and that the county and state are working on the Passaic River. “The county has been pro-active. If we do our job and clear the streams, the process will go faster.  I don’t want to see any more flooding. There had been no movement from the county until we appropriated money for the streams.”
 
The resident responded, “We’re dragging our heels.”
 
Council President Kevin Hall said, “We’re working with the county in a constructive way.  This will be an organizational discussion meeting to determine the nature and scope of the project.” He said it is not about dredging a particular area.
 
Earlier in the evening, former mayor Dan Paladino provided an update on the revitalized Historical Society. First founded in 1975, he said the town and Green Acres purchased a former farmstead at Mountain Avenue and Horseshoe Road. He demonstrated a website, which describes the history of the town, collections of stories, photographs and other memorabilia. Paladino shared insights about Bell Labs in Murray Hill and the genesis of the electronics industry that took place in Berkeley Heights.
 
“We should get behind this as a council,” Bruno said of the importance of preserving history.
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