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Councilman Woodruff Discusses Township's Position on Little Flower Land Swap

Bobbie Peer

Thursday, July 24, 2014 • 6:01pm

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Reacting to "Stop the Swap" signs that have begun to appear in Berkeley Heights, apparently in opposition to the proposed land swap between the Township and Little Flower Parish, Councilman Bob Woodruff discussed the township's position on the issue with TAP into Berkeley Heights.

The Township Council passed a Memorandum of Understanding at the July 8 meeting. The memorandum serves as the "first step" to discussions with the community regarding the opportunity of the "land swap" said Councilman Kevin Hall.

The Township will be holding five separate hearings to address each component involved in the potential swap between the Church of the Little Flower for the exchange of the Library Property. These public meetings will involve presentations by professionals, including the Township Planner.

Woodruff told TAP into Berkeley Heights that residents of Berkeley Heights should be aware of the following regarding the "land swap": 

The land swap was a suggestion made by Little Flower Parish (LFP) representatives after recognizing fiscal concerns.  LFP recognized they could no longer support their two facilities: Little Flower Campus (LFC) and the Original Church (OC), located on Plainfield Avenue. 

The LFP representatives suggested an exchange of property with the LFC and the library, including the appropriate financial adjustments needed to be made based upon respective appraisals.

Woodruff said, "Township officials determined it to be in the best interest of the Township, to consider this proposal due to the conditions of the governmental structures, including the library."

The Township had authorized the appropriate investigative actions, including the hiring of professionals, said Woodruff. 

Woodruff said that the three properties in question are non-taxable, non-revenue producing parcels. According to Woodruff, the township will examine the following possibilities:

  1. the viability of rehabilitating and/or rebuilding a new Town Hall on the current site, including finding temporary quarters for the entire government while this rebuilding takes place;
  2. sell the nine plus acre plot of governmental property and move into the restored buildings located on the LFC; or
  3. do nothing and allow the future council, when faced with the inevitable razing/rehabilitation of the government building, to deal with markedly increased costs and have no opportunity to offset same with monies from revenue producing property.

Woodruff believes the question is, "Given this one-time current opportunity, would it be more feasible and economically viable to relocate the governmental departments [including the library] to LFC, thereby freeing up the nine plus acres to be developed and creating immediate tax revenues through payment in lieu of taxes [PILOT], as well as taxpaying residences in perpetuity?" (PILOTs are voluntary payments made by tax-exempt nonprofits as a substitute for property taxes. These payments typically result from negotiations between local government officials and individual nonprofits, but the exact arrangements vary widely according to Lincoln Institute and Land Policy.)

The Township has sought to have the governmental property declared a redevelopment zone which has been approved by the Division of Community Affairs. Woodruff stated that this has a possitive tax implication for the Township.

"If it is determined to put the 'swap' in place, the Township will receive a new governmental campus, which will house all departments, including the library and police department," said Woodruff. "In addition, the Township will receive monies generated by the sale of the nine plus acres of property, the tax revenues connected with same [referring to the PILOT], and the 'in perpetuity' tax revenues generated by the residences built on the prior governmental property." 

Woodruff added that the Township has no interest in or responsibility for decisions made by and/or on behalf of LFP regarding the OC and that all questions or concerns should be directed to LFP.

TAP into Berkeley Heights will provide the dates of the public hearings  when confirmed by the Township. 

Editor's Note:  TAP into Berkeley Heights has reached out to proponents of Stop the Swap and will be reporting on their position on these issues next week.

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