Council's Decision Stops Berkeley Aquatics Mid-Stream

Council voted 5 to 1 against altering agreement with Warren Township to allow a commercial facility to access Berkeley Heights sewage treatment facility.

After months of controversy over Berkeley Aquatic Club's (BAC) plans to install a 51,000 square foot facility for swim meets in Warren Township on the border of Berkeley Heights, the Township Council voted last night 5 to 1 against allowing any alteration to the original contract with Warren Township -- effectively putting a halt to BAC's plans. 

Currently Berkeley Heights and Warren Township have an agreement that allows new residential structures in Warren Township to access the Berkeley Heights Sewage Treatment Facility, but not commercial structures. 

The proposed BAC facility would be a commercial enterprise.

The five members of the Berkeley Heights Township Council who voted against altering the original agreement between the two towns, said that if they changed the agreement, it would ultimately not be in the best interest of Berkeley Heights residents because it would limit the township's own plans for commercial expansion.

Council Members Kevin Hall, Craig Pastore, Elaine Perna, Thomas Pirone and Robert Woodruff voted against alterting the contract. Councilman Edward Delia was in favor.

Residents in the immediate area of the proposed building claimed that the facility would substantially increase traffic on Hillcrest Road and create a hazardous situation and Emerson Lane would be used as a short cut and for overflow parking that would negatively impact the homes on the Lane as well as other streets in the neighborhood. 

They also claimed that the installation of the facility would substantially reduce their property values. 

Other residents in favor of the facility claimed that allowing the BAC to tap into Berkeley Height's sewage treatment facility would bring in much needed revenue to offset taxes.

"This is about the contract we have in place. While many issues have been raised by residents of Emerson regarding how this will impact the neighborhood, as well as claims that allowing access to our sewage treatment facility will increase revenue significantly, what is at the heart of my decision is the result of altering our original contract," said Woodruff.

Hall said, "We have to consider the future, not just a year or two from now but 200 years from now. My decision is based largely on insuring that our sewage treatment facilities have the capacity to meet the growth that we want in our township."

At the last public hearing, earlier this month, Mayor Bruno voiced his concern that opening up access to the township's sewage treatment facility to commercial ventures in Warren could inhibit expansion of businesses in Berkeley Heights, such as the development of two proposed hotels.

All of the council members as well as Mayor Joseph Bruno offered high praise for Berkeley Aquatics and proprietor Jim Wood who has had a long standing presence in the Berkeley Heights community.

"Berkeley Aquatics has been an asset to our community for many years and I hope that going forward there is an opportunity for the organization to find a home in Berkeley Heights for its new facility," said Bruno.

Wood said that in the past, he has attempted to secure a location in Berkeley Heights for the facility, but each attempt failed due to zoning and other reasons. 

Wood said he is disappointed, but hopeful that there is another solution. 

"I will be working with Warren Township to explore all the options, but at this point, I just don't know what the next step will be." 

Jonathan C. Wishnia December 23, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Mark - I will tell you that I would not say that I love the program and all of its benefits. Jim Wood, the proprietor of Berkeley Aquatic, oversaw USA Swimming when it was racked with a child molestation scandal far worse than Penn State and Syracuse combined. I would never allow my children to swim under his tutelage. Beyond that, your argument is a red herring. There are a TON of swimming outlets very close by in the area, from open air, summer pools to LifeTime Fitness and various Y programs. No one is objecting to any of those many alternatives.
Craig Allen March 04, 2012 at 12:11 AM
John, You're just wrong. Sincerely, People Who Understand Things
Craig Allen March 04, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Hey Rebecca, You're coming from a biased elite perspective. Be dispassionate and please have an actual reason for disliking the Berkeley proposal, not just a personal bias. Sincerely, People Who Understand Things
AC March 05, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Rebecca, Do you honestly think the investors in BAC are in this for money/fame? There is no pay out for them, and there will be no fame... just appreciation. You say you come from an elite swimming program, and then you go on to say that you want your children to be involved in sports, and suggest a park for these activities? Games are played in parks; if you truly were a member of a high-caliber swimming program, you would understand this. Furthermore, your argument about increased traffic is invalid. If you ever stood across from the current BAC facility, you would see that at certain times of the day, there are a handful of cars dropping/picking up children. These are small numbers, not large.
AC March 05, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Jonathan, You clearly are misinformed, Jim took over as head of USA swimming after that scandal had already begun. He did what he could in that situation, and continued to refine the program into what it is today. Your naivety is incredible, go into BAC and take a look at the list of people who graduated from the senior level program. Every single person who made it to that level ended up graduating from a four year college. This is NOT something that the local Y programs, or LifeTime Fitness could boast. Berkeley has a thirty year history of excellence, and Jim Wood is one of the greatest coaches and life-leaders in this country. Learn your facts. Sincerely, A far superior person.


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