Town Eyes Buying Synagogue Property


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Yes, the Township of Verona is considering buying 56 Grove Avenue, the longtime home of Congregation Beth Ahm. No, most of the rumors you have heard about the proposed purchase are not true. The Town Council will discuss the matter at its Monday, May 1 meeting, which will also have time for public questions. Here’s what you may want to know before you ask your questions:

Why is the property for sale? Congregation Beth Ahm, which celebrated its 75th anniversary as a house of worship in Verona in 2011, is joining with another congregation out of town. The synagogue, like many Verona religious institutions, has a smaller membership now than it once did. It listed its property, which sits at the corner of Grove Avenue and Personette Street, for sale in January at $1 million.

What is Verona paying for it? At the April 17 meeting, the town introduced an ordinance to pay $900,000 for the property. It also introduced a bond ordinance for $942,500. But just because the town introduced a bond ordinance doesn’t mean it will definitely be going into long-term debt to pay for the property. The deal could be done out of reserves or through the disposal of some other municipal asset. 

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Is $900,000 a good deal? State property tax records assess the congregation’s large lot and building at $2,755,100, though as a religious institution it does not pay property taxes. The lot is 146 feet by 175 feet, or almost six-tenths of an acre. 

What is Verona going to with this property? The ordinance said the acquisition is for “municipal purposes” but the town has not yet specified a use. You can, however, rule out the rumor that has been circulating about the property being used for a parking deck. While the Town Council often discusses the state of parking in Verona at its meetings, it has shown no appetite for following Montclair’s lead with a parking deck. At its April 17 meeting, the Council gave a warm reception to an idea raised by Jack McEvoy to ask the houses of worship in the center of Verona about using their lots for municipal parking. McEvoy is one of the six candidates running for three Council seats in the May 9 election. 

What about moving the Rescue Squad here? Over the past 18 months, the Council has had several discussions about the building occupied by the Rescue Squad and the firehouse near Everett Field, which are in poor condition and, in the case of Firehouse #2, need a complete rebuilding. Moving the firehouse to the synagogue isn’t an option because that would put two firehouses on the west side of the Peckman, hampering responses to the Laning and Brookdale neighborhoods. But transplanting the Rescue Squad here would put it almost at the center of every call in Verona. The Rescue Squad, which now sits on a lot with an assessed value of $882,200, could also be on the verge of losing its parking because the lot next to Henry’s and Verona Aluminum has been put up for redevelopment.

Would the Rescue Squad move to a new location? Rescue Squad Captain Frederick Tempesta declined to comment for this story.

Isn’t that going to be a burden on the Grove Avenue neighborhood? Maybe and maybe not. For the 30 days ended April 22, there were 137 Rescue Squad dispatches, or roughly 34 a week. It’s not known how many occurred at night when the folks who now live next to the Squad might be sleeping but they may not have been disruptive: The Squad never rolls out of its current Church Street building with truck horns blaring. But if the synagogue had been sold to another house of worship or a school, that could have created other disruptions on Grove and the adjacent streets. There are only nine parking spots at the synagogue and the neighborhood is also home to the Episcopal Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has a small lot relative to the size of its congregation. As a result, there’s a lot of street parking on worship days. “Any house of worship that relocated to that location would have exacerbated parking issues in that area,” said Verona Town Manager Matt Cavallo. Sale of the synagogue to a school or house of worship also wouldn’t have added anything to Verona’s tax rolls. Only redevelopment as housing, a possibility under current zoning, could do that.

Can’t the Rescue Squad and Firehouse #2 go someplace else? Cavallo has been looking at possibilities but there just aren’t many, especially possibilities that would be affordable. Remember, the first responders need a flat lot large enough accommodate their trucks and gear. The owner of 200 Bloomfield Avenue,  which is right across the street from Firehouse #2 is now seeking $3.7 million for that property, a steeply wooded lot. It couldn’t fit a firehouse without substantial blasting and excavation, the same kind of work that area residents fought for three years before the developer prevailed last year.  The asking price of the Henry’s lot now is not public; the Henry’s store property was listed for sale in November 2011 for $1.4 million. There’s only one other commercial property for sale now on the east side of Verona, according to the commercial real estate database Loopnet. The irregularly shaped, 175 x 150-foot lot at 1 Mt. Prospect Avenue is asking $899,000. And dispatching fire trucks or ambulances from that location would mean stopping traffic in four directions. 

Why am I only hearing about this now? The Town Council has been talking about the need to replace Firehouse #2 for 18 months at a variety of meetings.  Its renovation, and that of the Verona Public Library, was the subject of a special meeting on September 13, 2016, which you can watch below, with the firehouse discussion starting at the 51 minute mark. But the town only recently identified 56 Grove as a possibility. The Town Council then followed municipal law, which requires it to introduce a measure about a possible purchase on first reading (April 17) and then hold a second reading (May 1) at which there will be a discussion by the Council and time for questions from the public. Sometimes measures are voted on at the second hearing, but sometimes more investigation and question time is needed, from the Council and the public. Remember that the vote on the turf fields behind the Community Center dragged on for months. But in closing statements at’s April 26 Town Council candidates forum two candidates–Donna Cannizzaro, Carrie Ford–asserted that the Town Council had not been  transparent in its actions on the property. “Things like this shouldn’t be happening in a small town like Verona,” Ford said. “We shouldn’t first be hearing about them at a Town Council meeting.” A third candidate, Edward “Ted” Giblin said the purchase was being put “on a credit card” for future generations to pay. 

Asked about her comments after the meeting, Ford said she stood by her statements at the forum. “In the spirit of transparency, the Council should make more information available to residents. The agenda released prior to the meeting only stated an ‘acquisition of real property’ was being considered, it did not provide the location of the property or that the Council was considering bonding nearly a million dollars for the purchase. Further, merely citing ‘municipal purposes’ in the ordinance made available at the meeting without further explanation from the Council does not provide residents with adequate information. Shifting the burden to residents to investigate the actions being considered by the Council deflects from the fact that the Council is withholding information.” The discussion of the deal’s merits, however, is not being shifted to the public; the second reading of any ordinance is always the Council’s opportunity to debate the issue at hand and the current Council has never been shy to do so.

Didn’t Verona buy another piece of property a while back? In September 2006, the municipal government under then Town Manager Joe Martin purchased 858 Bloomfield Avenue, the former Service League building, for $499,000. It seemed to be a play to force the redevelopment of 860 Bloomfield Avenue, the former Poekel Travel business because the town owns the right-of-way along Linn Drive that once was railroad tracks. The Service League building has been demolished, but there’s been no other movement on redevelopment. 

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. In order to correct your article I want to point out that the Township of Verona does not own the former railroad right-of-way adjacent to Lynn Drive. That property is owned by Poekel Properties and consists of 1.9030 acres of land. That parcel along with the commercial property located at 860 Bloomfield Avenue which consists of .8331 acres combined total over 2.7 acres. Verona’s former Service League property is .25 acreas which is about 10% of the size of Poekel Properties’ lands.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. A previous administration in Verona had given the impression that the town owned the property between the railroad right-of-way and Linn Drive. With this much property in the hands of one owner, the residents of Verona can hope for a speedy redevelopment that matches the improvements that now are being seen elsewhere in town.


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