SCOTCH PLAINS — The township will receive a $4-million grant from the state to be used towards construction of the municipality’s new library, a move that Mayor Joshua Losardo on Tuesday night said “will jump-start redevelopment” in the downtown.
At the start of the township council’s meeting, the mayor made the surprise announcement as he displayed an oversized mock check, saying to applause from meeting attendees that State Senate President Nicholas Scutari, with assistance from Assembly representatives Linda Carter and James Kennedy and after lobbying by council members, had secured the grant last week.
The township had earlier applied for funding from the $125-million state library bond ordinance approved by voters in 2017, but was turned down twice. Mayor Losardo said that last March, Mr. Scutari had asked, “how can I help?”
“Show us the money,” was the mayor’s joking reply.
The mayor said he “could not be more thrilled and grateful.” Library Director Michelle Willis echoed these sentiments, saying she was “so excited” and calling it “huge for our community.” The new library, which is set to be built on the site of the existing facility on Bartle Avenue, “will provide a state-of-the-art facility universally accessible” to all visitors, she said. Library Treasurer Bill Picard called the grant an “amazing thing” for the library and said any dollars will be “enormously helpful.”
Meanwhile, township redevelopment officials continue to evaluate the 11 Requests for Qualifications from developers interested in redeveloping the public properties in the downtown business district, and township
redevelopment director Thomas Strowe on Tuesday called the planned new library “a key component” of that redevelopment effort.
He also provided updates on several of the private redevelopment projects around Scotch Plains, including the housing development at the former Parker Gardens site, which he said is expected to be ready by next spring, and the housing development at the former Bowcraft Amusement Park site on Route 22, which he said could begin accepting a handful of affordable-housing tenants in December. Development of the former Snuffy’s/Pantagis property into a Lidl supermarket and park-and-ride lot will get underway as soon as Lidl representatives sign the redevelopment plan, Mr. Strowe said, after which the planning board can hold a hearing. The QuickChek convenience store and gasoline station at the former Jade Isle site is waiting for approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as is the planned housing development on Front Street.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the council gave its approval to the redevelopment plan for a mixed-use building on East Second Street, and the state DEP has said the plans meet state flood-control rules. Mr. Strowe also showed concept plans for a 30-unit apartment building to be built on land owned by the Scotch Plains Baptist Church at the corner of Grand Street and Forest Road. The redevelopment plan for that site was introduced as an ordinance at this week’s meeting.
Deputy Township Manager Margaret Heisey said that she and Mr. Strowe met recently with representatives from an electric-vehicle charging company and that an analysis of the downtown will be conducted to determine the best spots for EV charging stations. While the new developments will have on-site EV stations, others will be available in the downtown — possibly on Park Avenue and East Second Street — for use by residents and visitors.
In other business, Police Chief Ted Conley announced that he will retire on February 1 after nearly seven years heading the department and 25 years with the township police force. “The best thing that ever happened to me is working here,” he said. He saluted his officers by saying that, “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with.” He also thanked township councils past and present for the support he said has been “second to none” and also thanked the residents, saying they are “what makes this place so good.” Prior to his announcement, Chief Conley watched as Vincent Conti was sworn in as an officer with the police department.