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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." 

Bill Acheson December 21, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Wise decision. I feel better about local politics.
Harris Ruben December 21, 2011 at 02:37 PM
That's a photo of the earlier meeting, not the meeting of the 20th. A few residents spoke against the proposal, but none in favor of it. The town council acknowledged that the "increased revenue" argument was a red herring, and would have little or no effect on residents' taxes. I sincerely hope BAC finds a new, large location for their dream facility, in a place that does not disrupt a residential area.
TT December 21, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Jim Wood is quoted as saying he doesn’t know what BAC will do next. They have two choices, continue at the present inadequate site or find another property at another I-78 exit. With the first option, they may close up in less than 5 years when Jim hits age 65, or with the other option, they move to Hunterdon County. What’s the future for BH? • The present BAC site becomes an unusable hole in the ground for decades. • No hotel can formulate a valid business case to build in BH. • Some Emerson Lane NIMBY buys the proposed BAC site at a discount and builds 5-10 McMansions and then uses that windfall to move to a Mc Mansion in Tewksbury. • Children of fine swimming families take their future leaders to other counties. • BH businesses downtown lose another percentage of their business.
Bill Acheson December 21, 2011 at 03:35 PM
@TT - do you have a sense if they've tried other locations in BH or nearby? Connell seems ideal. I'm in favor of the facility - just not there.
TT December 21, 2011 at 03:41 PM
They have been trying for about 15 years, with self-defeating goal to stay in BH.
Bill Acheson December 21, 2011 at 03:45 PM
That's too bad. Everyone says great things about Jim and I'd love for my children to attend at some point. The proposed location is simply wrong.
TT December 21, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Its at an interstate ramp!
Harris Ruben December 21, 2011 at 03:56 PM
TT: •If the project went through, and they moved to Warren, there would still be that "hole in the ground" in Berkeley heights. What's your point? •What's this got to do with a hotel in BH?? The one behind Kings is going in, although it looks like a loser to me. The one by Connell looks like a viable business in a good location for a hotel. •Jim can sell the property to a developer, like Pulte, who would be glad to build some more expensive homes there. I doubt that any Emerson Lane residents wants to own it, though. •I don't see how BH business will lose anything. Even if this project went through, it's so far away from downtown BH, people would end up in Long Hill at Starbucks, or the gas stations there, or any of the business there, who have tons of parking, BTW, unlike BH. So, TT, it's over. Time to move on.
Bill Acheson December 21, 2011 at 03:56 PM
That's accurate, but a very limited perspective. We'll agree to disagree.
TT December 21, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Bill, Harris, thanks for your opinions. From my perspective, a non-resident, non-BAC person, this is a bad outcome. BAC is a jewel that should be celebrated and nurtured, not blocked. So be it.
Katherine Smith December 21, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Let's not forget that this is about our youth and developing strong adults for the future, not revenue. What you had in Jim Wood was a great leader for our next generation; building strong character and solid citizens to be proud of. This was intended for the youth of BH just as much as for children in neighboring areas. I hope he finds a community that recognizes the importance of his endeavors and supports him rather than shooting him down.
Bill Acheson December 21, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Katherine, I don't believe that anyone here has stated that they're against the institution/its benefits/members/future , just its proposed location. As the parent of youth near Emerson, this location stirs fear for their well-being. Emerson is a country road that barely accommodates the current traffic profile, especially in winter. Any facility of this profile, regardless of its noble intentions, would be a misfit for the location. The BH Council ruled from a different perspective. Warren from yet another. I'd expect that the financial backers of the BAC will continue their challenges in court and use their money and influence to push for this location.
Harris Ruben December 21, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Katherine, so one was shooting Jim down, and everyone recognized the value of the facility. But it belongs in a commercial zone, not in a residential area. That's what this was all about. We all wish Jim well, really.
Katherine Smith December 21, 2011 at 05:38 PM
I believe that you are being honest in your comments and well wishes. If you genuinely believe in this endeavor, then I wonder why the town doesn't rally around this honorable mission, and find a piece of land that will work? Why does this individual need to spend 15 years of his life trying to come up with ideas that you vote down? Young children who would have benefitted immensely from a facility with better air quality have gone through the program and have graduated from college without ever seeing the dream of an updated pool realized!! How many things have you committed yourself to for 15 years and been turned down repeatedly? And if BAC had the financial backing and influence that you suggest, would it really be taking this long?
Harris Ruben December 21, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Well, my son chimed in on the subject: "in 1998 a huge aquatic center was built in Eisenhower Park in Nassau County Long Island for the Goodwill Games. This is important because even though the county spent $0 on the center, they are responsible for maintenance. you only have to google this to see that it's a major issue. the millions of dollars a year on upkeep, capital expenditures, maintenance. even with a free facility, the county always talks about closing it down because it doesn't get used enough to pay for itself. and it's a world class olympic facility. so for this guy to invest 3 million in land, plus have to build it in Warren... i just don't get it. sports facilities really don't make money. he should rent the long island facility. "
Jonathan C. Wishnia December 21, 2011 at 06:28 PM
"I'd expect that the financial backers of the BAC will continue their challenges in court and use their money and influence to push for this location." Bill - I think that is clearly one of the keys here. The biggest owner of BAC (tied with another), at 40% ownership based upon BAC's corporate disclosure forms, is J. Michael Pearson, the CEO of Valeant, a California-based pharmaceutical company that produces CeraVe. CeraVe just happens to sponsor swimming tournaments. The only way they can push this is through a money-man.
Jonathan C. Wishnia December 21, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Katherine - First, I appreciate the civil discourse. Now, as to whether it would take this long, the answer is yes. Pulte - who is building homes across Hillcrest - took something like two decades to get their needed permits. BAC has an active and motivated opposition, myself included. We intend to fight this through every legal means necessary, because this location is simply not correct and BAC is willing to harm the neighborhood for this location. As an example, the 'use' issue is now in the courts because no legal body has actually even determined if this is a permitted use (promises/determinations from Warren Township employees to the contrary). That litigation alone will possibly take years. And it will go on from there.
TT December 21, 2011 at 08:50 PM
It sure looks like the "harm to the neighborhood" took place in the early 70s when the federal government dug a huge hole along the edge of Free Acres for I-78... At this point, you are fighting the good guys. Most people would be proud to be neighbors of BAC, or a nursery school, or a special needs school. I live near a high school. It adds character and diversity to our neighborhood. Having healthy, normal community activity near your own house is nothing to be scared of.
rebecca acheson December 22, 2011 at 04:08 AM
glad the council members voted on the issue at hand and proceded with the outcome they did. As a resident, mother, and former elite swimmer I know the benefits of a program of the caliber that Jim Wood is running, I also know the benefits that brought my family to this community-BAC's proposed location does not fit the bill. Im sure that Mr. Wood will continue his quest until his investors grow weary, though after 50 some odd attempts they must have deep pockets and lots of faith, that BAC will bring them money/fame. As a parent, sports are something I want my children to be involved with, why not put a park there..then we can all use this space, keep the carbon foot print down and the property values up in both warren and BH.... great job STOPTHEBAC-
Jonathan C. Wishnia December 22, 2011 at 04:58 PM
"At this point, you are fighting the good guys." TT - I am sorry, but you are not the good guys. I have no doubt that there are many wonderful people that attend BAC. In fact, the ones I know are good, decent folk. But what BAC is proposing is a threat to our families and neighborhood, from the destruction of value of property, to the danger of additional traffic to our children, to the inevitable noise and light pollution. You may choose to discount those things, but you can do so because you intend to use the area for your swimming needs and then leave when and as you please. Those of us who live there cannot so easily dismiss or ignore them. This area has no street lights and no water hookups. The local roads barely support the traffic flow that exists today, and the traffic arteries up and down Hillcrest already get massively crowded. Adding potentially hundreds of cars into this mix – even if just on weekends – will be a disaster. None of us bought our homes looking to live in a disaster zone. If you choose to live near a school, that is your choice. But it was not mine, and it was not for the others in the area. As to the condescending tone of your post, I take a modicum of pleasure in the irony that your post directly followed my post thanking Katherine for civil discourse. The reason why I complimented Katherine was because BAC supporters have been heaving vitriol at the neighbors since we first started raising concerns.
Mark December 23, 2011 at 12:47 AM
It is always the same story; I love the program and all of its benefits but not in MY backyard. Why are people so hypocritical?
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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