Bloomfield Council Gives Final Approval on Lion Gate Property, Animal Shelter To Become True “No-Kill”

Council81114The Bloomfield Council voted to approve on second reading the ordinance appropriating $10.5 million (including the issuance of $9.975m in bonds or notes) to enable the township to purchase the former Scientific Glass property on Lion Gate Drive for open space and recreational use.

The vote was 5-2, with Councilmen Lopez and Bernard voting no. Councilman Lopez had previously urged the council to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum in the fall. He introduced a resolution to do so at the July 21st conference meeting, but it failed on a vote of 5-2.

Lopez reiterated his desire for a referendum at Monday evening’s meeting. He said that although he is in favor of open space, there are other places in town that could accommodate soccer fields. He said, “This is a tale of two cities: those who are in favor of open space and those who are struggling to pay the bills.”

Councilman Pomares spoke in support of the expenditure, saying it could “do so much for so many.” He pointed out that, while preserving the property as open space won’t solve all of the flooding problems associated with the site, keeping it undeveloped provides the opportunity to make it better. The site, currently owned by a developer who had planned to put 104 townhomes on the property, is on a flood plain. Pomares said, “I absolutely think it is worth it…. I am doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Councilwoman Davis cited the long-term benefit of preserving open space, quoting the Greek proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.” She also pointed out that the $10 million cost should not be discussed without also talking about the costs associated with developing the site and the support the township has from other organizations.

Mayor Venezia admitted the cost is high, but said, “You can’t put a price on open space in Bloomfield.” He said that the DEP had already committed $2.2 million to the project. Councilman Joanow said that they were voting “for the entire township of Bloomfield.”

During the public comment period prior to the vote, many residents spoke both for and against the ordinance.

Former Mayor Raymond McCarthy and former Republican mayoral candidate Russ Mollica both said Councilman Nick Joanow should recuse himself from the vote, as his property adjoins the Scientific Glass site. McCarthy said that if Joanow voted he would file a complaint with the Attorney General and the DCA (Department of Community Affairs). He also made the accusation that Mayor Venezia’s support for the purchase of the site was “quid pro quo” for obtaining Councilman Joanow’s support for his election campaign.

Leo Sceurman, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, pointed out that Zoning Board members are required to recuse themselves from voting on applications pertaining to sites within 200 feet of their own property.

Questions were also raised about the legitimacy of the vote on the ordinance on first reading and whether the Council followed Robert’s Rules of Order properly. At the time of the first vote, Mayor Venezia was absent and Councilman Joanow ran the meeting. There was discussion after Councilman Bernard initially abstained from voting, after which he changed his vote to yes, allowing the ordinance to pass on first reading. Township Attorney Brian Aloia upheld the legitimacy of the vote based on the township code. (According to Robert’s Rules, a vote can be changed at any time before the result is declared, or even after a result is declared as long as the rest of the governing body agrees to it.)

Many other residents spoke strongly in support of purchasing the property for open space.

Susan Ebert, a long-time advocate of preserving the property, opened an umbrella as she stood at the podium to remind the council of the flooding problems on the site, which she said would only grow worse with the increase in volatile weather. “You know that we shouldn’t be building on wetlands,” she said.

Susana Sotillo also spoke in support of open space, and held up a flyer she had received criticizing Joanow for having a conflict of interest on the issue. She said flyers like these “insult the taxpayers’ intelligence.” Judith Earley said that the Lion Gate site is “a rare piece of land in the lower Passaic watershed,” in that the river flows naturally rather than being channeled and barricaded. She said the land offered the possibilty for an outdoor schoolroom to acquaint children with natural forces. “They didn’t want to save Central Park, either,” she said.

A resident of Greenbrook, the nearby condominium development on Lion Gate Drive, spoke at length in support of the project, pointing out that it has the support of U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Rodney Frelinghuysen, State Senator Ronald Rice, and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo. Jane Califf defended Councilman Joanow’s right to vote on the issue, saying it was “unconscionable” to say he has been supporting the preservation of the land “in order to have a park in his backyard.”

Lois Ross, who said that she had worked for 15 years to protect the 3rd River corridor, said “This is not any one person’s issue…. This is part of a bigger plan for the betterment of Essex County.” She said that the 3rd River is the “last natural river in Essex County” and is home to numerous types of wildlife, including eagles. She cited the successful outdoor classroom used by the Middle School at Clark’s Pond as an example of the type of opportunity the preserved site at Lion Gate could provide.

After the vote to approve the ordinance, many audience members left and the rest of the meeting went quickly. Several other important measures passed on Monday evening:

Bloomfield Animal Shelter

The council voted unanimously to accept the bids from Bergen County Humane Enforcement to manage the Bloomfield Animal Shelter and to take over the animal control services for the township, effective September 1, 2014.

The bids were in response to an RFP that went out last month, and were the only bids received by the township. In their bids, Bergen County Humane pledged to turn Bloomfield Animal Shelter in to a “true no kill” facility and to reinstate a volunteer program during the first quarter of management.

Animal Control Officer Vincent Ascolese answered questions from the council prior to the vote to accept the bids.

Councilman Carlos Bernard asked Ascolese how he would deal with several dogs currently at the shelter who had bite histories or had been previously evaluated as having issues, including one that had bitten a potential adopter.

Ascolese said that his organization would have a “new culture,” and that they will have their own professionals and staff to evaluate the dogs and to work with them. He said he had had access to the shelter through ACO Mike Spinella and understood one of the dogs may have had a medical condition that caused him to lash out. He assured Bernard that every precaution would be put in place to prevent future incidents of that sort.

Ascolese also said the volunteers will be brought back to the shelter during the first quarter and will undergo training. He indicated that volunteers outside the shelter (doing marketing and other tasks) would be just as important as the in-shelter volunteers, and that there would be no “tiers” of volunteers. Minors would be able to volunteer if accompanied by an adult. He also said that they would have extended hours compared to the current shelter hours. He joked he would probably “become a part-time resident of Bloomfield” due to the hours he intended to spend at the shelter.

He also addressed the long-pending CAPA (Companion Animal Protection Act) ordinance that has not yet been officially approved by the council. He explained that the legislation is not specific enough to New Jersey ordinances and he intends to form a committee to go through it and make appropriate modifications to ensure it complies with New Jersey’s state ordinances before it is passed by the council.

Historic Preservation Commission

The council also voted unanimously to approve, on second reading, an ordinance creating a town-wide Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission will replace the existing Historic District Review Board, which has jurisdiction only over the Historic District surrounding the Bloomfield Green.

The new Commission will oversee historic sites throughout town, including a number of structures that are on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, as well as those that are deemed eligible to be on the Registers. Examples include the Bloomfield and Watsessing Train Stations, the Collins House, South Junior High School, Interstate Hosiery Mills, Inc. Mill Building (Silk Mill Lofts), and the White Circle Diner, among others.

South Junior High School Building

The council approved a resolution to authorize and direct the Planning Board to undertake an investigation to determine whether the South Junior High property at 177 Franklin Street constitutes an “Area in Need of Redevelopment,” specifying “without the use of eminent domain.”

Mayor Venezia explained after the meeting that if the site is declared an Area in Need of Redevelopment, the current owner, Lance Robbins of Urban Smart Growth, who wants to convert the building to house studio apartments for an artist-based community, would be eligible for certain grants, donations and other funding opportunities not currently available to him. The property is presently designated an “Area in Need of Rehabilitation.” Venezia also said that the former school’s auditorium, when restored, will be offered for public use. The developer intends to apply for historic tax credits for rehabilitating the historic building, and must restore the auditorium in order to be eligible.

At the beginning of the meeting, the mayor and council issued proclamations honoring the Suburban Track and Field Team, the Bloomfield Bengals 12U Softball Team, and one commemorating the 85th anniversary of the founding of the New Light Baptist Church.

Mayor Venezia congratulates a member of the Track and Field team.

The next meeting will be a conference meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 18, 2014, in the 2nd floor conference room in the Law Enforcement Building.

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  1. So Ray McCarthy is complaining about quid pro quo and making ethics complaints. Not sure if I can handle that much irony so early in the day.

  2. Vince Ascolese, the dismissed core volunteers of BAS (10+ years of service most 3-7 days/week) were extremely knowledgeable, experienced, hardworking and dedicated. When Karen Lore and the BoH decided to get rid of them they cut out the very heart and soul of that animal shelter. So much for working so many hours a week for free in addition to using personal funds to pay for supplies, buy “extras”, pay for veterinary services the township wouldn’t and getting animals on “the list” out to sanctuaries. Getting rid of ACO’s Nancy Thompson and Jeff Sneddon (again Lore and Fitzpatrick’s doing) started the decline.

    Any dogs currently at the shelter with “issues” have those issues due to lack of exercise, basic training and human contact. The volunteers who worked with the dogs knew the importance of all three and made certain that each and every dog at the shelter, regardless of their “issues”, got everything they needed to facilitate their adoptions. Many volunteers knew those animals, cats and dogs, better than most of the staff ever did.

    We have wanted nothing more than management who was experienced and compassionate. Management who recognized and appreciated volunteers and the services they provided. Management who loved animals as much as we did and wanting nothing but the best we could provide for them even if we had to pay for it ourselves, one way or the other. And we did.

    As the last remaining original volunteer from the mid-1990’s (and with no desire to go back) I pray that finally things are turning in the right direction and the late Mayor John Bukowski’s dreams of a shining example of what an animal shelter could be will finally come to fruition.

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