This past Monday, The Municipal Land Use Board recommended that the two properties on West Webster – Hunter Building Supply and C&M Pools – be designated as an area in need of redevelopment.
Anthony Kurus from Neglia Engineering Associates – the firm that prepared the planning study – reviewed the report with the board during the December 11th MLUB meeting.
The study area consisted of four (4) properties listed as block 506, lots 2, 3, 4, and 5. The purpose of the report was to determine if the properties met any of the eight (8) statutory criteria under New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. In 2016, the triangular-shaped area was listed in the borough’s Master Plan Re-Examination Report and list as the last of 11 areas to be reviewed for development.
Mr. Kurus testified, “We conducted a field investigation to identify physical conditions of the buildings, the site conditions, and the properties within the study area. We reviewed available mapping, state plan policy maps, floodplain mapping, tax maps, zoning maps, aerial photography along with the existing land uses, and development patterns in the study area.”
The planner stated that the study area satisfied three (3) criteria, namely (a), (d), and (h).
With respect to criterion (a), Mr. Kurus stated, “As per our field investigation and some of the flow traps that we attached within the appendix of the report, the generality of the buildings and the structures on site are substandard, dilapidated, obsolete, lacking in light, air, and space and generally in a state of disrepair.”
He specifically pointed out the Hunter building site, saying, “The view of the property from the adjacent residential zone which you see is old, obsolete, dilapidated buildings and fencing. The structures on the property are in a state of despair and in our opinion are unsuitable for re-use.”
Mr. Kurus added about C&M Pools, “At the time of the investigation, the building was in operation, but the general appearance of the building is one that is older in style, obsolete, limited windows, lacking in air and basically just [an] older building that’s not in tune with today’s current design, building design, standards.”
Criterion (d) was discussed, with Mr. Kurus remarking that the properties are inconsistent with modern planning principles and standards, specifically, “You’ve got a hodgepodge of structures on the property in an obsolete type layout where you have circulation issues, lack of landscaping associated with it and due to the location of the where the buildings are along the street line, there’s really no room to effectively screen and buffer the use to the adjacent residential zone.”
Lastly, Neglia Engineering touched upon criterion (h), a criterion the firm has used in every one of its reports to the borough. Mr. Kurus said, “The study area is located entirely within a smart growth area and is classified as a metropolitan planning area. It is our opinion that the designation of the entire area is consistent with the smart growth planning principles of the metropolitan planning area, Planning Area 1, to provide for redevelopment to revitalize the borough, promote growth, and protect the character of the existing residential community.”
The planner concluded, “Redevelopment of this area would be in keeping with the goals and the objectives of the approved Master Plan, the New Directions recommendations, and the Master Plan Reexamination report.”
Jacob Magiera spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting and asked if the properties were on top of contaminated soil. Mr. Kurus replied, “As part of this investigation, we haven’t done any soil analysis or soil testing so I can’t answer that.”
“When do you expect to do that?”, asked Mr. Magiera.
“I, personally, wouldn’t do that,” Mr. Kurus answered, “If the developer chose to develop the property, that would be part of their due diligence process at that time.”
Mr. Kurus was also asked if, as stated by another planner who presented before the board – Fred Suljic from Benecke Economics, if the land use board could offer recommendations as to what they would like to see on a certain property before a redevelopment plan was prepared.
Kayla Pesserillo, from the law firm of McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC – the law firm hired by the governing body to provide redevelopment counsel, explained, “What will happen is a redevelopment plan will be drafted and at that point the land use board will review it and that’s where they have the opportunity . . . They won’t create the plan; they’ll have the opportunity at the hearing [to] give ideas if they wanted to add them in . . . they’ll be able to review it and give their recommendations if they want to see certain things, if they have opinions or suggestions, they’re all welcome at that point.”
When asked how the planner would create the plan and what would it be based on, Mr. Kurus returned to answer, “We would basically draft a redevelopment plan based on planning analysis of the area itself [and] surrounding development. We would draft something to be reviewed by the land use board and mayor & council, but it would be based on review of planning principles, local planning principles, county-wide, statewide; everything kind of merged together to come up with something that’s going to fit, basically.”
Again asked if there would be an opportunity to have members of the board or council provide criteria that could be included in the redevelopment plan, Mr. Kurus answered, “Yes.”
The discussion among MLUB had member John Kennedy ask, “Is there any limitations to that lot size based on its proximity to the railroad tracks or would that be at application time?”
Mr. Kurus stated that it would have to be considered once the redevelopment plan is prepared, but that railroad setbacks would have to be adhered to and included.
MLUB President Loren Harms touched upon the testimony provided by Mr. Suljic at the October 16th MLUB meeting, “The gentleman did make it sound like that we could demand, basically, what we wanted in there. I’m not sure we’re demanding or even thinking of demanding something. What we’ve done in the past is that [developers] submit plans and we work it from there. I would think that when this goes back to council, [they] would develop something in their minds of what they’d like to see there and then have that particular builder, whomever it might be, come and present it to the board here. At that time we would make our recommendations on what changes we might want to see or add or anything of that sort. I’m not sure that the board is going to be involved [in] planning.”
Mr. Harms continued, “The gentleman said we can plan and we could put our minds together . . . I don’t think that we’re getting to anything near that – of sitting down and start talking about what we’re going to build there or not build. I think council brought this to light. They think an area of redevelopment should be looked at. It’s coming to the board here to say yes or no to it and once that’s done, then they have to [do] their due diligence in what they might want to see there. The board here, if they don’t like some of the things on it, the facade or trees or whatever it might be, at that time we would give our opinion on what we want to see there and again there’s other things . . . We can change things even though the plans come in, if they wanted to put in something that we don’t want, we can say that’s not going to go . . . We do have the right, when it comes to us and presented to us, we can make our suggestions to them”
He concluded, “We do our due diligence. [This is] just to help some [people] understand. The board is not going to sit down with a planner [and] discuss what’s going there. I think that’s up to mayor and council to start it off and then give it to us to kind of critique it.”
The next step is that the matter will go before the governing body to continue with having a redevelopment plan prepared. It is not known if council will provide input on development or simply await to see what a developer presents.