The proposed library: to be, or not to be

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:12

    WEST MILFORD - Because its location is in an area which falls under proposed Highlands regulations, the battle over the library land in West Milford may just be too little, too late. At the workshop session meeting on April 15, Councilman Joseph Elcavage addressed a request for the council's help with the ongoing dispute between the Board Of Education (BOE) and the library over the property sited for the new library. The issue was brought up at a previous meeting by library President Richard Williams who recounted the saga of the botched land deal for council members and asked that they intervene with the BOE and include the matter in budget discussions. Elcavage promised the council would approach the school board and he proposed drafting a resolution to have the BOE sign the property over to the township, which in turn will clear the way for library construction. However, Mayor Joseph A. Di Donato pointed out there may be a problem with building on the land. The proposed Highlands preservation legislation would freeze development of all environmentally sensitive lands and almost all of West Milford falls in that category. "Until the Highlands legislation is in final form, I cannot say what the impact will have on this property, or any other property in town," acting township administrator, Kevin Byrnes, told The Messenger. In the mid 90's, the library's board of trustees bought a five-acre piece of property with $120,000 in accumulated donation monies. The parcel was the intended building site for the new library, but because of the Board of Education having apparent partial ownership, it stopped the construction in its tracks. Now Williams is asking the council for help. In 1995, after hiring a consultant, the library board was told the standard size of a library for a town like West Milford was 18,000 sq. ft. West Milford's current library is 3,000 sq. ft. An engineer hired by the library told trustees they could not expand the building on its Town Hall Complex site because the property won't accomodate a septic system to service the building. Williams told council members, the library paid Lou Wallisch $120,000 for his interest in the property known as the Wallisch Estates. The brothers, Lou and John Wallisch, owned the property jointly. Upon his death, John Wallisch bequeathed his interest in the property to the school board, which in turn sold it to the township for $11,000. The town bought the parcel, at Lincoln and Marshall Hill Roads, and subsequently built a senior housing project on the site. The five acres bought by the library adjoins the apartment complex and overlooks the valley, but the library board has yet to get the approval it needs to build, according to Williams, who says the property was the only developable land available at that time. In 1998, the council authorized the land use for the library and placed a $4 million referendum issue on the ballot. Williams said voters turned down the appropriation issue. Since then, the library has spent another $50,000 for an architectural plan, designed specifically to fit in with the landscape and complement the homes on the estate. Because the property was jointly held by the brothers, the subsequent title was never clear and the school board retains a half interest on the land. Although they have been asked many times to relinquish their hold on the property the BOE, to date, won't authorize its use for the proposed library building.