Within the next month, South Orange will seek input from community stakeholders to begin crafting an RFP (request for proposals) for uses of the former Jersey Animal Coalition building on Walton Avenue.
“In the next two weeks we will call a meeting” for community members, said Village President Sheena Collum at Monday’s Board of Trustee meeting. The township has been meeting informally with stakeholders, such as the Farrell Field Park Conservancy and other neighborhood groups but has not held a formal meeting seeking input from the larger community.
The town must decide whether it wants to continue to use the building for animal control services and sheltering, or if it wishes to seek proposals from private entities for adaptive reuse.
“We need to know pretty decisively what we want to be there before we post any RFP,” said Collum.
Township Administrator Barry Lewis explained that if they town opens up the RFP to adaptive reuse proposals, it will be critical to stipulate what uses the town would and would not permit.
Trustee Howard Levison said he had spoken to Maplewood Deputy Mayor Kathleen Leventhal and that Maplewood is eager to know South Orange’s plan for the building. “Maplewood is having problems with sheltering,” said Levison, referring to that town’s current contract with the Associated Humane Society, which officials have indicated is a temporary solution to its animal control needs.
Trustee Marc Rosner asked if South Orange was obligated to partner with Maplewood on animal control even if it decided to go forward with adaptive reuse proposals. Lewis said it was unclear and the town was reviewing its legal obligations to Maplewood.
The trustees also discussed the option of contracting out to another town to house its stray animals.
“It seem to me that South Orange doesn’t need its own dedicated shelter,” Collum said. She asked Deputy Township Administrator Adam Loehner to begin compiling statistics on the town’s current stray animal population and also to look at how nearby towns handle animal control.
Collum said she had spoken to Essex County officials about the possibility of the county operating a shelter for multiple municipalities but she was told the county was not interested.
Richard Bell, president of the Farrell Field conservancy, which presented the town with a proposal several months ago for other uses for the building that would complement the River Greenway master plan, said that providing animal control services for other communities “is not something we would favor.” He added, “We want what’s best for our community.”