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FAIR HAVEN: NEW TOWN HALL PLANNED

646-river-rd-100518-1-500x375-6412252Fair Haven officials hope to acquire the former Sunoco station for redevelopment as part of long-range consolidation of municipal operations. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-2130637A vacant gas station site in Fair Haven could become the home to a new borough hall and police station under a plan up for consideration Tuesday night.

fh-borough-hall-100518-500x375-8180379Borough Hall would house the relocated community center, as well as the library, which is already in the building. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

An ordinance allowing the borough council to move toward the possible acquisition of the former Sunoco station on River Road is just the first step in what could be a five-year effort of consolidating services — and selling off real estate to help pay for it, redbankgreen has learned.

Up for an adoption vote Tuesday night is ordinance 2018-22, which would authorize the borough to acquire the old service station lot, at the corner of Cedar Avenue.

There, town officials hope to build a three-story structure to accommodate the police department, with a secure sally port on the ground floor; administrative offices on the second floor; and council chambers on the third floor.

In a notice to residents posted on the borough website late Friday, Mayor Ben Lucarelli and the council called the site a “much more appropriate location, which is synergistically located near our Fire Department.”

Just 16 months ago, the borough was close to authorizing extensive remodeling of the existing police station — originally constructed as the Fisk Street School — and adjoining community center. But Lucarelli said further investigation revealed that “it would cost a ton of money, and you’d still have a building that wasn’t built for that purpose. Instead of a 50-year fix, you’d have 15.”

Now, he said, the council is mulling a series of changes that would consolidate police and other departments in a new building, and pair the community center with the library in the existing town hall.

No deal has been reached on he Sunoco, property, Lucarelli said. The station went out of business in late 2011 and has been vacant since. The ordinance, which was introduced September 24, says the borough “has not been able to effectively communicate with” the site owner, identified in property records as Sunoco Retail LLC, and would enable the town to buy it or take it via eminent domain.

Tucked into a $3.2 million bond ordinance introduced passed month is an unspecified amount of funding for the acquisition. The funding also covers the purchase of a dump truck; and the construction of a boat launch, a bulkhead and pocket parks.

The plan anticipates the sale of vacant borough land adjoining the public works facility on Allen Street, which is expected to yield 10 buildable residential lots, Lucarelli said. Police HQ and the existing community center would also be sold.

That would offset “a good portion” of the costs of the new borough hall, he said.

“All our debt falls off in 2020, and we have assets we can sell,” Lucarelli said. “The whole focus is to do this in a revenue-neutral manner.”

“We have antiquated facilities that no longer meet the needs of the borough,” Lucarelli told redbankgreen late Friday.

Another aim of the plan is “to get facilities as much as possible out of the residential neighborhoods,” Lucarelli said.

Lucarelli said the plan has been in development behind closed doors, led by a subcommittee consisting of himself; Councilman Jon Peters, who heads the finance committee; Councilman Eric Jaeger, who chairs the facilities committee; and Administrator Theresa Casagrande.

No renderings are yet available, Lucarelli said. The borough has engaged architect Eli Goldstein, of Maplewood, and planning firm Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank.

An attempt to win approval to convert the Sunoco station to a drive-thru bank was aborted in 2016 after it ran into objections over its traffic-flow plan.

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