MLUB Approves – Once Again – An Area In Need Of Redevelopment On Westfield Avenue

At last night’s Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) meeting, the Board for the second time approved the stretch of land along West Westfield Avenue which includes the old Domani’s restaurant, Surgent’s Elite, and DJ’s Limousine as an Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR). The area was originally approved by the MLUB on December 21st of last year but, as Joe P. Baumann – the Borough’s Special Redevelopment Counsel – stated before the presentation, “For technical reasons, we’re asking you to do it again. We had to send some additional notices to property owners.”

One significant difference between the ANR from December till now is the removal of Block 314 – Lot 14, Skinner & Cook. Robert Skinner – the owner of Skinner & Cook located at 218 West Westfield Avenue – put on the record that his property is not to be included in the Area In Need Of Redevelopment.

“I was informed last week of your intention to do this redevelopment project and that I was notified that I am part of it on lot 14,” said Mr. Skinner during the public comment portion of the MLUB meeting, “I was never approached to have my property bought so therefore I am objecting to being a participant of this. I have no intention to sell my business or sell my property.”

MLUB President Loren Harms responded to Mr. Skinner, “I thank you for your comment. We will adjust that when we get the presentation from Neglia Engineering.”

Mr. Bauman added for the record, “I have been in touch with a representative from Mr. Skinner and included a suggested resolution. That resolution would exclude lot 14 from the study if you deem that appropriate as a recommendation to the Mayor & Council. It’s their ultimate decision to include it or not.”

Although no longer included in the study area, its removal from the ANR is not expected to impact a proposed development of a 210-apartment complex that will have around 5,100 sq. ft. of retail space on the first floor. Sources have confirmed that the proposed developer is Meridia Living – a Capodagli Property Company (CPC) – out of West New York, NJ (link).

Anthony Kurus of Neglia Engineering testified again that his firm – which is also the MLUB Planner as well asn the municipality’s engineering firm – was retained by the borough to conduct a preliminary investigation and study to determine if a specific area located at Block 314, Lots 6,7,8,9,10,11,12, and 14 – called the study area – constituted an area in need of redevelopment. The report was completed in November of 2015.

In his testimony last night, Mr. Kurus recapped the criteria and addressed the other significant difference from his first testimony last year by removing two criteria, (c) and (f), from a list under New Jersey law NJSA 40A:12A-5 that his firm felt satisfied the criteria for ANR. The full statute section is as follows:

40A:12A-5. Determination of need for redevelopment

A delineated area may be determined to be in need of redevelopment if, after investigation, notice and hearing as provided in section 6 of P.L. 1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A- 6), the governing body of the municipality by resolution concludes that within the delineated area any of the following conditions is found:

  1. The generality of buildings are substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated, or obsolescent, or possess any of such characteristics, or are so lacking in light, air, or space, as to be conducive to unwholesome living or working conditions.
  2. The discontinuance of the use of buildings previously used for commercial, manufacturing, or industrial purposes; the abandonment of such buildings; or the same being allowed to fall into so great a state of disrepair as to be untenantable.
  3. Land that is owned by the municipality, the county, a local housing authority, redevelopment agency or redevelopment entity, or unimproved vacant land that has remained so for a period of ten years prior to adoption of the resolution, and that by reason of its location, remoteness, lack of means of access to developed sections or portions of the municipality, or topography, or nature of the soil, is not likely to be developed through the instrumentality of private capital.
  4. Areas with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.
  5. A growing lack or total lack of proper utilization of areas caused by the condition of the title, diverse ownership of the real property therein or other conditions, resulting in a stagnant or not fully productive condition of land potentially useful and valuable for contributing to and serving the public health, safety and welfare.
  6. Areas, in excess of five contiguous acres, whereon buildings or improvements have been destroyed, consumed by fire, demolished or altered by the action of storm, fire, cyclone, tornado, earthquake or other casualty in such a way that the aggregate assessed value of the area has been materially depreciated.
  7. In any municipality in which an enterprise zone has been designated pursuant to the “New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zones Act,” P.L.1983, c.303 (C.52:27H-60 et seq.) the execution of the actions prescribed in that act for the adoption by the municipality and approval by the New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zone Authority of the zone development plan for the area of the enterprise zone shall be considered sufficient for the determination that the area is in need of redevelopment pursuant to sections 5 and 6 of P.L.1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A-5 and 40A:12A-6) for the purpose of granting tax exemptions within the enterprise zone district pursuant to the provisions of P.L.1991, c.431 (C.40A:20-1 et seq.) or the adoption of a tax abatement and exemption ordinance pursuant to the provisions of P.L.1991, c.441 (C.40A:21-1 et seq.). The municipality shall not utilize any other redevelopment powers within the urban enterprise zone unless the municipal governing body and planning board have also taken the actions and fulfilled the requirements prescribed in P.L.1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A-1 et al.) for determining that the area is in need of redevelopment or an area in need of rehabilitation and the municipal governing body has adopted a redevelopment plan ordinance including the area of the enterprise zone.
  8. The designation of the delineated area is consistent with smart growth planning principles adopted pursuant to law or regulation.

The seven (7) individual lots and the criterion designated by Neglia Engineering are listed below. As a whole, the ANR, according to Mr. Kurus, satisfied criteria (b), (d), and (h).

31412220 West Westfield AvenueSsessCo
31411230 West Westfield AvenueDomani's Restaurant
31410240 West Westfield AvenueCharles Goeller Inc.
3149248 West Westfield AvenueDJ's Limousine Service
3148250 West Westfield AvenueResidential House
3147252 West Westfield AvenueResidential/Commercial
3146256 West Westfield AvenueSurgent's Elite

Mr. Kurus stated that the western most lots satisfied the last criteria since they were within the state’s Smart Growth Area. He stated for the record, “The redevelopment law states that a redevelopment area may include lands, buildings, or improvements which of themselves are not detrimental to public health, safety, or welfare but the inclusion of which is found necessary, with or without change in this condition, for the effective redevelopment of the area which they are a part of.”

He ended his testimony by saying, “In conclusion, as per the redevelopment law, if any of the conditions are met, the entire area can be classified as an Area In Need Of Redevelopment . . . It’s my opinion that the study area meets the local redevelopment statutory criteria for an area in need of redevelopment.”

When asked how many criteria must be met, Mr. Kurus stated that – at the minimum – one criterion needs to be met and that in this instance, three criteria are satisfied within the law.

The total original study area contained 2.17 acres. With the removal of Skinner & Cook, the land of the Area In Need Of Redevelopment was reduced by a little more than ⅓ of an acre for a new total of 1.83 acres.

The Board voted and – once again – unanimously approved the area as an Area In Need Of Redevelopment. The matter will now go before the governing body at the May 19, 2016 Mayor & Council meeting for formal approval again.

A special meeting of the MLUB that will provide more details as to the proposed development is scheduled for this coming Monday, May 23rd, in Borough Hall at 7 p.m.