Berkeley Heights complex moves ahead with land swap completed

Photos by Jenny Goldberg
The Berkeley Heights Municipal Building at 29 Park Ave. will be replaced by a state-of-the-art facility that will hold the local police station, administrative offices, library and community room.

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — With real estate transactions complete between Berkeley Heights and Church of the Little Flower, the township is clear to move into the next phase of its $28 million municipal complex redevelopment project.

The transfer of Little Flower’s “upper church,” associated buildings and surrounding land near the intersection of Roosevelt and Hamilton avenues to the township for its library at 290 Plainfield Ave. was a “win-win,” Mayor Bob Woodruff told LocalSource in a Jan. 4 phone interview.

“Thank you to all who participated in this process,” Woodruff said on the township’s website to announce the Dec. 21 closing of the property transactions. “The township will shortly be formulating request for proposals for distribution to prospective developers regards Hamilton property.
“We are hopeful that this project will significantly help us offset costs associated with our new Municipal Building.”

The exchange gives Berkeley Heights about 15 acres of land, where it will operate its library in the Little Flower rectory while renovating the Municipal Building at 29 Park Ave. to include a new library.

The parish — which also operates a second “little church” at 310 Plainfield Ave. — will take over the library building next door at 290 Plainfield Ave. for a parish center, expected to open by September.

“We have worked and collaborated closely and well with the township on this exchange of property,” the Rev. Andy Prachar said. “It benefits our Little Flower parish as it lowers our overhead and the amount of property that we have to be concerned about.”

Woodruff said the township is seeking proposals from developers for both the municipal facility and townhomes it would like to see erected on the former parish property once the library no longer needs the rectory and surrounding land.

The township is accepting proposals through the end of February before choosing a builder and is developing monetary plans for the municipal complex, township clerk Ana Minkoff told LocalSource in a Jan. 3 phone conversation.

The township has already adopted a redevelopment plan for the project and has also passed a resolution to sell $28 million in bonds.
The redevelopment plan was devised by Michael Mistretta of Harbor Consultants, an engineering, planning, surveying and construction management company in Cranford. It envisions demolishing all existing buildings, structures and pavement on properties adjacent to the current Municipal Building east of Berkeley Avenue.

A new three-story building will be erected in its place that will hold police headquarters, municipal administrative offices, the public library and a community room.

Minkoff told LocalSource in a Jan. 2 phone interview that the municipal project has many moving parts, but the township hopes it will be complete sometime in 2019.

After the library moves out of the church into its new home, the rectory and property around it will be redeveloped into townhouses, with some units set aside to comply with the township’s Mount Laurel housing obligations.

Woodruff said the township will soon begin to prepare requests for developers to submit proposals within the next two to three weeks for what it calls the “Hamilton property.”

“There has been significant interest,” he said.
The public library officially closed Dec. 4, and is still in the process of moving into the church rectory. According to Library Director Stephanie Bakos, a date for its opening has not yet been announced. In a press release, Bakos noted that a substantial amount of work must be done to the interior of the rectory to make it suitable for the library’s daily operations.

“There is considerable work to be managed and completed in order to make the property at 110 Roosevelt Ave. suitable and safe for use as a public library building,” Bakos wrote. This includes, “construction, permits, approvals, moving library property, moving and reconstructing network and Wi-Fi access.”

Residents have been encouraged to use the neighboring libraries in New Providence, Summit and Long Hill.
“Check for a list of all of the libraries participating in reciprocal borrowing agreements with Berkeley Heights,” Bakos said in the release.
Summit Public Library Director Susan Permahos told LocalSource in a Jan. 3 phone interview that her library is honoring Berkeley Heights library cardholders, and patrons are welcomed to attend any of their programs, lectures and movie events.