Kent town center vote coming

(Original publication: July 08, 2001)

KENT Maples and oaks on the edge of the 65-acre parcel sway in the breeze generated by rushing traffic on Kent's main thoroughfare.

If signs at various locations along Route 52 near Route 311, Farmers Mills Road and Ludingtonville Road and a banner hanging from the library get their message across, that chunk of woods will become Kent's focal point.

On July 25, voters will decide whether Kent should borrow $5 million to build a town hall, police station and library on the land, which sits on Route 52 next to the town's recycling center. It will be the third referendum the town's roughly 14,000 residents have faced in less than three years. It is also one that some residents see as a vote of confidence in the town's future.

For Mike Savchak, Kent's future is worth a few extra bucks if it gives the town a center for community life and transforms Kent from a tenant to a property owner. Since 1991, the town has rented most of its office space in a Route 52 shopping center. Rent this year is about $55,000.

"Why pay rent?" asked Savchak, a 23-year resident, coming out of La Rocca's IGA Market on Route 52. "People have this idea they want services and they don't want to pay for it."

Most of the $6.9 million project would be paid with money borrowed through the bond. The rest would come from grants, the sale of the existing Town Hall building and the library, and reserve money set aside by the town. The new facility is expected to cost the average homeowner about $52 a year for the length of the 30-year bond.

Kent Supervisor Annmarie Baisley called the vote "an opportunity of a lifetime" and a bigger issue than the 1998 referendum that asked to sell the town highway garage to make room for an outlet mall.

The highway garage vote, which passed 2,353 to 1,861, divided the town. The town center vote, however, appears to be bringing most of Kent together.

The garage referendum featured about four months of debate, with active campaigns mounted by those for and against selling town property. With a little more than two weeks left before the vote on the town center's financing, there is very little active campaigning on the issue.

Residents who collected signatures on petitions calling for the latest referendum wanted taxpayers to have a say in the expenditure. They also questioned saddling residents, who already shoulder the county's largest tax burden, with a larger bill. Based on 2000-01 town budgets, Kent residents have the highest tax rate at $7.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

However, a number of "normally quiet groups", one resident said, are coalescing and urging residents to vote yes.

"If this thing goes down, we might as well pack up the town and go," said Jeff Green, a community activist who maintains a Web site featuring town news and information,

Green, who has criticized the Town Board on some issues, including increased funding for a new Lake Carmel firehouse and development proposals, said the yes-vote effort was being supported by Friends of the Kent Library, PLAN-Kent (Protecting Land and Nature in Kent) and the Kent Police Benevolent Association.

"It certainly would be a very negative thing for this town to vote down its future," Green said.

Built in 1943, the existing Town Hall houses the police station, town justices and the Planning Department. A ceiling collapse last year forced the Police Department into trailers in that building's parking lot.

Talk about the new town hall stretches back to at least 1988. Kent acquired the parcel on Route 52 from the county about 10 years ago. It was only in the past year that town officials and others began formulating plans for the land in earnest, as the clock began ticking for its reversion to the county.

"Just like owning a home, its worth the equity," said 17-year resident Kate LaRanger, outside La Rocca's Market. "If you have something that you own, even if it costs you a little more, you win in the long run."

Town office space would jump from about 3,600 square feet to 11,000. The library's space would more than triple, to 10,600 square feet. State Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, presented plans for the town center in April, and, along with consultants, explained the project's construction and financing. Through Leibell, the state Senate would be the lead agency for the project, overseeing its planning and construction.

Town Councilman Joseph D'Ambrosio said he supports the proposed town center. In door-to-door conversations, he said some residents have worried the project's cost might increase during construction.

"I think they're voting for or against based on the money cost to themselves," D'Ambrosio said. "Some are concerned the cost won't be what is proposed."

Rita Miller, though, is fed up with the library's tight quarters and ready to support a town center. Her children, she said, have trouble pulling books off the shelves in the crowded facility.

"This town," she said, "really needs a central location to take care of all the needs of the community."


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005