As December comes to an end, so does 2020. It has been a tough year, but December had some highlights including a much-needed snow day for our children and perhaps ourselves.
The Township employees finally moved into our new building. It’s wonderful to work in a new space and in a beautiful building. The library is also preparing to move in and open in the new year. Currently, the installation of shelving that will hold the many books that have been in storage for quite some time is finished and the furniture designed specifically for the space will beginning installation.
Final adoption of the Connell office park rezoning that will allow for a reimagined space to combat the dying suburban office market was approved unanimously by the Township Council last week. The old office facilities will give way to amenities such as a dog park with a hamburger stand as well as a playground. This is fitting news for 2020 as we have seen record numbers of family dog additions in Berkeley Heights in 2020--- the Devanney family included. Other amenities will include a specialty grocer, entertainment spaces such as duck pin bowling, additional restaurants and retail. We protected our local Springfield Avenue corridor of businesses with a reduction in the square footage for retail spaces allowable as not to compete with our downtown businesses. One such feature the Connells have invested in is an app for those who will reside within “The Park” promoting local downtown businesses such as restaurants, dry cleaning and personal care services and more. We have worked hard to create synergies with the Connell development which will compliment and enable our downtown to thrive.
Additionally, the Township Council passed the rezoning of Stratton House that includes an additional parcel previously slated to become a hotel. The expansion of the existing project improves the look of the project, including a wrapped 4-story parking garage as opposed to a 5-story hotel. Negotiations over the last year yielded 20 new parking spots for Township commuters, improvements to the streetscaping such as decorative lighting plus trees and new sidewalks from Lone Pine Drive (entrance to Delicious Heights) to Plainfield Avenue. The developer will now also contribute $100,000 to the redevelopment of Peppertown Park. The proud site of the Christmas tree and Menorah lighting which also took place in December. I pushed for this donation to be included in the amended redevelopment agreement in lieu of a Community Benefit fee because this corner serves as an important gemstone to our community and gateway into the downtown area. Passive recreation and building a walkway parallel to the park and railroad tracks will provide an important pedestrian corridor for our children, residents and seniors.
A few weeks ago, Governor Murphy’s office invited me to participate in a conference call for suburban mayors on economic issues. I am extremely hopeful for the new year, as a result, and plan to craft a new mission for my Economic Development Committee around these statewide programs. The Governor’s economic recovery package will help create and preserve jobs, sector-based innovation with a main street focus to lift New Jersey out of the deepest recession of our lifetime caused by the Coronavirus global pandemic. I listened to the heart-wrenching stories from our business leaders and owners, so I am excited by the possibilities of programs such as the Main Street recovery Finance Program as Berkeley Heights businesses are still reeling from the pandemic. This is the hope we needed in our community. As a community built on the technology of Bell Labs as its headquarters in Murray Hill 1941, I am also truly thrilled about New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund to encourage start-ups to locate in suburban communities.
The Mayor’s Youth Council collected food donations and witnessed the overwhelming generosity of the community. They continue to be active in all aspects of the community including personal phone calls to seniors. The Mayor’s Senior Advisory Board (SAB) continued to push forward in setting the agenda for a post-pandemic world by adhering to the three pillars of our mission statement for seniors: 1) recreation, 2) physical & mental health 3) education. The Township will be distributing a survey to gauge the needs of our older population and our one-time paper senior newsletter is out this week thanks to federal CARES money, a collaboration between the SAB and Communication Committee. Thank you to Pam Yoss and Council President Alvaro Medeiros for this effort and jump-starting programming for seniors on the Township’s access channel. Other redevelopment news includes the closing on a parcel unusable by the Township that was sold to the Millcreek developers, formerly Spatz property, depositing $250,000+ into our surplus for 2021.
Finally, as your mayor, I want to reaffirm my commitment to making our Township a warm and inclusive community for every resident of every background. As I have discussed with the Maplewood/South Orange Community Coalition for Race, we must be intentional in our thinking and be certain we are extending a hand to every person not just with our words, but with our actions. Bullying, hate and exclusion will not find refuge in Berkeley Heights if every stakeholder and every resident ALL work together.
I look forward to delivering the State of the Township address on January 5, 2021 (feels great to type out those numbers…2-0-2-1). Please do not hesitate to reach out to me email@example.com, Facebook: @mayorangiedevanney and Instagram: @mayorangiedevanney, or the office (908) 238-3815.