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."