Several Kinnelon residents spoke passionately Thursday night against the borough council's consideration of creating a lot where police could store seized vehicles and evidence behind the borough municipal building and across from a municipal field on Kinnelon Road.
"It's disgusting. It's disgusting that I'm going to have to explain to my son about having an impound yard across from where he plays football," resident Olga Gilhooley told the council.
The council has spent the past three months discussing the lot after Kinnelon Police Chief John Finkle has said a lot is needed to store the vehicles and equipment currently taking up at least six spaces in the parking lot directly behind the municipal building. As Mayor Robert Collins explained, creating the lot would be part of an accreditation process the police department is involved in and would bring the department into compliance with state Attorney General's Office standards.
If the department is accredited, the borough could save about $35,000 a year in insurance costs, which council members said Thursday could be used to offset taxes or pay for improvements to municipal fields.
Ultimately, the council decided to table voting on the lot, which some council members noted is not technically an "impound" lot because only vehicles seized by police or involved in car accidents would be brought there, so that more information could be gained and alternatives could be considered. But not before an hour-long discussion between members of the public and council members on the issue.
Resident and football commissioner Bob Lewis came to Thursday's council meeting with a box of glass, metal and rocks that he said were found by children playing on the municipal field behind borough hall. His point was to show council members the poor condition of the field, but to also emphasize his thoughts that adding the lot across from the field would create what he believes to be an even worse situation for the kids.
"There's no consideration for the kids and what we have to put up with down there," Lewis said.
Lewis mentioned the basketball courts that are currently in the parking lot that would be removed (although council members said they courts would be moved to another location) with the installation of the vehicle seizure yard. He said the council members should know how upset many members of the public are over the issue.
"I think somehow, along the way, you lost track of your constituents," he said.
Gilhooley also said the council members should "keep your finger on the pulse of what the community is looking for" and consider alternatives. She said the community is already aware of the high number of drug arrests on Route 23 and that bringing the involved vehicles near the municipal field is not a good idea.
"Recreation and 'heroin highway.' They shouldn't be in the same sentence," she said.
Collins sought to dispel rumors about the lot circulating in the community, such as the possibility of barbed wire fencing around the cars there.
"We're not having barbed wire in this town around kids," he said.
Collins also said residents should know that consideration of the lot is not being thought of only in terms of the $35,000 the borough could save. Councilman Andrew SanFilippo also told the audience that the borough is no longer considering using the lot for shared service agreements as a way to bring in revenue.
"It's not purely financial. It's really us getting the accreditation, getting recognized," Collins said.
Councilman Gary Moleta explained that a designated area is needed where the evidence can be secure. One resident asked about underground drums that are included in the scope of the project where explosive evidence, namely fireworks, would be kept and Moleta said the police department would want to have the drums in a location where they could keep a watchful eye over the facility.
Mike Elefonte, a resident and youth sports volunteer, said the lot would be "an eyesore."
"A borough of our stature should not have an impound yard, or whatever you want to call it, next to our recreation field," he said.
He also expressed concern over the explosive evidence drums and the potential for fluid leaking from the cars stored in the yard, although Moleta said the police would not allow cars to leak continuously in the lot.
Elefonte was also concerned about alleged criminals coming to Kinnelon to attempt to retrieve items from their vehicles.
"You're opening up the town to people that don't belong here," he said.
SanFilippo told the residents that the location being considered was not the first choice of council members but a recommendation of the borough engineer. The mayor said council members had originally sought to locate the yard near the Department of Public Works facility or on Boonton Avenue, but that the council was advised that state approval would be unlikely in those areas.
As Councilman Ron Mondello motioned to table the vote and discussion for a later meeting, Collins acknowledged that the council did have several unanswered questions to look into, despite the due diligence he said was done in researching the issue. Those questions include whether an impound lot would be needed for accreditation and whether it has to be on borough property, as an owner of a Riverdale towing company told the council that it would not. Collins said the council would also like to further look into what is needed for the underground explosive evidence drums and any alternative ideas for the yard that would be cost-efficient for the borough.
Toward the end of the discussion, more residents asked the council to consider what they felt the borough would be losing, despite the money it would be saving through the accreditation.
"[The yard], quite frankly, does not help us improve our property values. In fact, it helps drive it down," resident Eric Rosenberg said.