Watchung mayor unveils ‘no cost’ plan for new library and arts center

Watchung mayor unveils ‘no cost’ plan for new library and arts center

WATCHUNG, NJ — Mayor Keith S. Balla today announced an ambitious “public-private partnership” to build a new modern public library, arts, and community center “at no cost to taxpayers.”

“My administration has drafted this innovative joint venture concept to provide our residents with a new library, arts center and community center at no cost to taxpayers,” said Mayor Balla. “This is a sensible concept that promises to provide long-term benefits for the borough. »

Per the mayor’s recommendation, Watchung would seek a qualified developer to build the new public facilities on borough-owned property along Mountain Boulevard – between the municipal building and the fire department – replacing the library and center. existing art on Stirling Road.

Watchung would continue to own the Mountain Boulevard site, but would grant a long-term lease to its private sector partner that would also allow it to build a mixed-use commercial and residential project on the property, the mayor said.

Watchung would require the developer to set aside a portion of its residential units as budget apartments for seniors on fixed incomes. This would help Watchung comply with its affordable housing obligation, Mayor Balla said.

The commercial-residential portion of the project would also generate new long-term revenue for the borough, explained the mayor.

Once approved, Watchung would issue requests for proposals (RFPs) seeking experienced and qualified developers willing to form a joint venture with the borough, the mayor said.

Mayor Balla appointed a nine-member bipartisan Ad Hoc Facilities Committee to consider his proposal; consider other alternatives; and to examine the maintenance and improvement needs of the other facilities in the borough.

The mayor asked this ad hoc committee to seek the opinions of citizens, government agencies, professionals and businesses, then to make recommendations to the borough council.

Appointees to the Facilities Committee include Councilor Curt S. Dahl; Arts Center Board Chair Joan Plasner; library board members Gail Tafaro, Bradford Leigh and Barbara Steinfeld; Borough resident Bibi Taylor, also Union County CFO/Treasurer; Historical Committee member Stephen Pote, library promoter Hans Juette, and local attorney David A. Checchio.

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William E. Bennett