Mayor and council are scheduled to review the redevelopment plan for the property commonly known as the Sullivan property at tonight’s municipal meeting.
The redevelopment plan is the latest phase in a process that started over a year and a half ago when in December of 2016, the governing body approved to fund a redevelopment plan. In May of last year, Mayor & Council authorized the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) to determine if the property was An Area In Need Of Redevelopment. Part of the delay since then has had to do with the professionals the municipality hired having scheduling and other conflicts which stalled the review of findings and preparing of the redevelopment plan.
Two lots comprise the 3.85-acre piece of property on Westfield Avenue at the intersection of Chestnut Street. Capodagli Property Company (CPC) is the currently contracted purchaser of the property which is owned by MAS Development. CPC is proposing an apartment complex called Meridia At Park Square at the site of the former Sullivan Chevrolet which has been vacant for close to a decade. In September of 2015, MAS owner Sal Garcia had his proposal to develop a four-building one-story 100% commercial space complex with AutoZone as a confirmed tenant rejected by the MLUB (link).
Meridia At Park Square was originally proposed by CPC as a two-building six-story 415 apartment complex with a little under 17,000 sq. ft. of combined space dedicated to as-yet-unknown commercial space. This was later reduced through negotiations with the governing body to 370 units with an additional incentive of increasing that number to 380 units if at least 1,200 sq ft. of public office type space is allocated to the municipality on the first floor or second floor.
Currently, CPC is constructing a two-building six-story 212-apartment complex further west on Westfield Avenue with the first floor dedicated to 5,000 sq. ft. of as yet unnamed commercial space. It has been stated that the focus of the first floor on that property is for a restaurant, but no tenant information has been publicly provided.
At the center of tonight’s discussion are five (5) recommendations made by the MLUB during their review of the redevelopment plan in June. They are:
- Remove ‘Supermarkets’ as a permitted use in the plan.
- Remove ‘Auto Retail’ as a permitted use in the plan.
- Remove the 15% Affordable Housing component from the plan.
- Lower impervious coverage from 95% to 90%.
- Increase the minimum individual retail space from 1,200 sq. ft. to 1,750 sq.ft.
In removing supermarkets as a permitted use, MLUB Chair Loren Harms said, “I don’t want a supermarket.”
With respect auto retail being removed from the plan, MLUB member John Kennedy remarked, “That was just chaos for years when we did want to put in an auto part store there so I would ask that that goes.”
The board agreed with both comments and unanimously recommended to remove those uses.
The MLUB did not want any affordable housing at the complex and members voiced their objection which was put into their recommendations. There were some misconceptions about the number of affordable housing units that would be allowed at the 380 unit complex. It had been implied by some that 30% of all units would be three bedroom affordable housing units, which would come out to 57 units. In reality, the total number of affordable housing units – which is made up of one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units – would be at most 57.
In reviewing the maximums and minimums set by statute, there are two main possible scenarios. Affordable housing units are separated into one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom limits. These limits are:
Using the two-bedroom minimum of 30% would break down into the following:
Using the three-bedroom minimum of 20%, the breakdown of affordable housing apartments would be:
The one-bedroom numbers were rounded down since the maximum would require that calculation.
The concern from the MLUB was that affordable housing units – especially three-bedroom apartments – would place an undue burden on the schools since it was believed that such apartments would impact the school-age population.
Another issue with the Coalition On Affordable Housing (COAH) requirements is the protection from builder’s remedy lawsuits the municipality enacted which protects the borough from such litigation until 2025. There are those who believe that since that protection exists, there is no need to address affordable housing on current or upcoming projects since the protection is good for another seven years. In speaking with those familiar with the matter, the thinking that there is no need to address COAH until 2025 is similar to applying for a no-payment-until 2025 loan and waiting till then to pay it back all at once. If, for whatever reason, the loan is not paid off at that time, then significant retroactive interest kicks in and the payment balloons. The only difference is that with affordable housing if it is never addressed and by 2025 all potential development is completed, there will be no room to address COAH.
In addressing impervious coverage – which is basically any non-visible ground where rainwater can soak into the soil – the land use board asked that that amount of ground be increased from 5% to 10%. Currently, the property is 100% impervious.
The last recommendation from the MLUB was to increase the minimum of commercial space to 1,750 sq. ft. The current minimums for various types of commercial space are:
- Retail: 1,000 sq. ft.
- Professional/Business Office: 1,200 sq. ft.
- Bank: 1,200 sq. ft.
- Restaurant: 1,200 sq. ft.
Tonight’s agenda has separated each recommendation into a resolution to be discussed and voted on by the governing body individually.
In the end, mayor and council could either accept or reject any or all of the MLUB recommendations and proceed with the redevelopment plan. The only thing that would send the redevelopment plan back to the land use board for their review and recommendation again would be any significant and substantive change made by the governing body tonight. Rejecting any of the recommendations would not cause a delay in the redevelopment plan but removing or adding to the plan as it exists will cause a delay in adopting it.
If the governing body votes on the recommendations and makes no significant additions or deletions to the redevelopment plan, the next step will be to have it voted on as an ordinance. Since there are two readings for an ordinance, the redevelopment plan could be finalized – optimally – by the second municipal meeting in September. If there are any substantive changes, that would cause the matter to go back to the MLUB which has their next meeting in August, then return to the governing body during the first Mayor & Council meeting in September. They would review the recommendations – if any – which might have the ordinance be up for a vote at the first municipal meeting in October.
The concern of many residents and elected officials is that the property has sat vacant for over ten years and a potential development would be an improvement to the borough’s aesthetics and attractiveness as well as a benefit to the taxpayer.
The important thing to note is that although there is currently a known developer for the property, the redevelopment plan is the borough’s concept of what should go in an area of the town. In reality, the redevelopment plan should state what the residents want – through its elected officials – regardless of any current potential developer who understandable wants their own vision of what should be developed.
This plan was done hand-in-hand with the developer where both parties – the governing body and CPC – negotiated the borough’s redevelopment plan with the party interested in developing.
The fear of some residents is that if Capodagli walks away from the project, the property will sit vacant for another ten years. But there are other developers in the state that would most likely be interested in envisioning what Roselle Park wants to put in the center of town if, for whatever reason, the currently contracted purchases does not finalize the redevelopment plan.
Additionally, the projected savings for a house assessed at $253,000 – the average household in Roselle Park – would be between a $300 and $340 reduction in the property tax bills. That figure is using this year’s municipal budget as the reference point. In other words, if both Meridia projects were finished and an estimated 1,200 additional residents and four (4) six-story buildings were added to the borough, this year’s property taxes would have been – on average – $300 less than they were.
In speaking about these two Meridia developments, the projected revenue would be between $1.2 to $1.4 million a year. Mayor Carl Hokanson has stated that these funds could be used for one of three things. It could be put into the general operating budget would result in a reduction of expenditures and then result in a reduction in property taxes. It could be used to pay for capital projects all at once as opposed to putting out for bonds which would remove having to pay interest. Lastly, it could be used to pay off existing debt service.
Tonight’s meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. in council chambers of the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue. There will be a public comment portion before and after the governing body votes on the resolutions related to the redevelopment plan.