FAIR HAVEN: PURCHASE PLAN SCRAPPED

fair haven 623 river 022120 4The proposal called for a $3.4 million purchase of the office complex at 623 River Road, followed by an estimated $9.6 million in site redevelopment. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topicFair Haven’s council has scrapped a controversial plan to buy a River Road office building for $3.4 million.

Monday’s action marked the second time plans for a proposed home for a new borough hall and police station have fallen through, and left officials turning to plan C.

fair haven police station 071520 2The police station and attached community center may be replaced by a new structure on the present site of a parking lot. (Click to enlarge.)

At its regular meeting Monday night, conducted via Zoom, the council unanimously voted to withdraw an ordinance that would have cleared the way for the purchase of a tenanted office building at 623 River Road.

A presentation on the proposed acquisition drew a standing-room crowd to Bicentennial Hall in early March, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the borough to cancel public gatherings and table the expected adoption of the plan.

Opponents said the purchase would force a number of locally owned businesses to find new space, possibly in other towns.

In addition, the proposed purchase was just one piece of an ambitious $20.87 million plan to consolidate borough facilities that some residents worried would saddle them with soaring tax bills, despite assertions by officials that the plan would be “debt neutral.”

After more than three months of silence on the topic, the decision to kill the River Road plan emerged from the pandemic haze on June 23, when Mayor Ben Lucarelli, who had championed the purchase, recommended it be withdrawn in light of budget considerations.

The council unanimously approved the motion to abort the ordinance without a word of comment Monday. On Tuesday, Councilman Chris Rodriguez, who chairs the borough facilities committee, told redbankgreen the the action was “purely procedural.

“There were as many reasons” to withdraw the ordinance, Rodriguez said via email. “One of the biggest ones was that the purchase lacked public support.”

But “we still need to build a new DPW building and a police facility,” Lucarelli¬† said at the June 23 meeting, according to minutes. He suggested that an architect study the feasibility of building a new station and community center next on Fisk Street.

Rodriguez said it is now “likely” that the town will build a new police station in the parking lot of the existing one, and then retire the old building, a former schoolhouse, Rodriguez said.

“That needs to be reviewed and approved by the full council membership,” he said, but “has broad support.”

The police station, located among single-family homes, is outdated and infested with black mold, though officials have previously said that the mold has not affected the health of anyone working in the building.

Chief Joe McGovern told redbankgreen Thursday that the building is routinely checked to checked to ensure it’s safe to work in.

Borough officials previously hoped to acquire another River Road site, the former Sunoco station at the corner of Cedar Avenue, for a new town hall and police station. But M&M Realty, which had proposed building a bank on the site, exercised an option to acquire it before the borough could act.

M&M is now proposing to construct housing on the site.

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