Testimony On Sullivan Property Provides Insight To Redevelopment

If there is one article this year that anyone interested in development and our government’s role in it should read, this one is probably it.

On October 16th, the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) was to vote on whether to determine whether the lots commonly known as the Sullivan property on Westfield Avenue satisfied the criteria to qualify as an area in need of redevelopment.

The property is located at 10 West Westfield Avenue and sits at the end of Chestnut Street. It was the location of the Sullivan Chevrolet dealership before it was put up for sale in 2009. It is considered by many as a key component of redevelopment in Roselle Park since it sits in the center of town.

If you have a particular style you want to encourage the redeveloper or developer to do, that’s something that [you] can place into the redevelopment plan.” – Fred Suljic

The preliminary investigation report was presented and reviewed by Fred Suljic from Benecke Economics, the firm hired to conduct the study. Throughout his testimony and even after it was concluded, Mr. Suljic offered advice and provided information based on his expertise which was accepted by the MLUB.

Mr. Suljic gave an overview of the report for the 3.85 acres that were comprised of two lots – block 601, lot 1 and block 610, lot 3. He reviewed the eight statutory criteria that are used to determine whether a property can be considered an area in need of redevelopment. His report proposed that the area be deemed in need of redevelopment under four (4) criteria: (a), (b), (c), and (d). Most notably, the property was deemed to be unsafe, dilapidated, vacant, and unattractive.

Under New Jersey law, only one criterion needs to be met. Unlike Neglia Engineering, the firm that has done previous reports, Benecke Economics did not use criterion (h), which is the easiest one to use since most of the borough is in a ‘smart growth planning’ area.

For the sake of reference, New Jersey law NJSA 40A:12A-5 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.

You have it open to the public . . . I think that’s important to see what people want. ” – Fred Suljic

During his presentation, Mr. Suljic stated that he ‘highly’ recommended mixed use for the property. With respect to the space dedicated for retail use – be it a restaurant or store – he explained, “Towns, they want to go down to like 500 square feet. I discourage 500 square feet.  You need to be 1,000 [to] 1,500  – that range to get some nice niche businesses that could come in that could compete against the Targets, the K-Marts . . . the Walmarts. Those are the things you need to take a look at.”

He continued his testimony about the Sullivan property by stating, “There’s no question in our minds that you could look at something that would have a use for, probably, retail. I don’t know if you have a great market for medical offices but I’ve been finding out a lot of different medical clinics – not so much drug and alcohol abuse – that wouldn’t be appropriate. But medical offices, doctors, dentists, I get those calls all the time . . . Then if you wanted to have a second and a third and a fourth floor – something to be consistent with the height theme of the district, that would be something that I think could be encouraged.”

It was after his official testimony that Mr. Suljic gave more hands-on advice to the land use board and council. He said, “When you have your discussion with the borough council and they authorize the redevelopment plan, just make sure that they come back to you and if they want to give you some hints [with] what you want to look at, I think that would really be [helpful]. I would really encourage this land use board to really take a good look at how you want to mix that use. You’ve got a really nice large site, almost four acres in size and you’ve got a lot of good access to the site . . . It can be done quite nice. If you have a particular style you want to encourage the redeveloper or developer to do, that’s something that [you] can place into the redevelopment plan which would be four or five or six pages. We would have some minimums, we would have some bulk regulations, we probably would still want to use some of the major bulk regulations.”

Mr. Suljic offered options available to Roselle Park regarding the construction of the redevelopment plan, “You have it open to the public . . . You may want to have a three-hour session. If it only lasts an hour, it lasts an hour but if it lasts three, that’s what it is . . . but I think that’s important to see what people want. Don’t forget, what people want is not always necessarily what they’re willing to support. I’ve seen people say ‘bowling alley, billiard room’ . . . but you have to be realistic [with] what you have in this market because some of these big box retailers they have a certain market and you’ve got to have that niche, whatever that niche is.”

He continued giving suggestions on how the borough could get the most input to actually determine the direction of development in Roselle Park. He commented, “You’ve got to have the right businesses or they won’t last six months. So if you have an idea, if you have some friends who are in the business, grab those ideas. If they can’t come to the meeting, you bring [their ideas]. You talk to 20 people. You’ve got to see what’s realistic. [See] your businesses here versus . . . adjoining municipalities because there’s a lot of competition [out] there. That’s what you have to watch out for. But, if you talk to 20 people they’re not willing to come, you bring those ideas to the table, that’s just as good.”

MLUB President Loren Harms stated to Mr. Suljic, “We’re in baby steps right now . . That’s something that we can look into as we proceed because I’m not sure where council is.”

When questions were open from the dais, MLUB member Paul Baiamonte asked for clarification regarding how to use redevelopment, “Who establishes the parameters of this redevelopment tool?”

You folks are very important as the land use board. You set that tone and tenor [of] how and what you want to see.” – Fred Suljic

Mr. Suljic responded, “You can do it one of two ways. The redevelopment plan is actually your re-zoning. You can either, amongst yourselves, start deciding what criteria you want the consultant to put in or if you don’t have a really good idea . . . think amongst yourselves. Maybe every board member comes in with five or ten things that you would like to see. For some people, they’re more interested in the facade and there are other people who are interested in how the outside is going to look with lighting and signage because it could be done very nice or it could done to look like hell and be neon city.”

“You’ve got to tell me what you want to do,” he continued, “If you don’t have an idea, a lot of times what the consultants will do, they’ll draft a concept redevelopment plan and set some criteria. You take it, you massage it, you want to make it more restrictive, you want to make it more flexible, that’s what’s nice about the redevelopment plan. It’s as flexible as you want to make it but you have to remember that it’s in light of whatever the people who’ve got the money out there and what they can build so you have to be realistic. If you do a nice mixed use, my suggestion is going to be retail, as I said before, don’t make it a minimum of 500 square feet.”

“So this is a blank slate?”, Mr. Baiamonte asked.

“This is a blank slate right at this point and time,” answers Mr. Suljic, “Once borough council comes back and says we’re going to put together the redevelopment plan with your consultant . . . you could put all your ideas before you hand that to the consultant and say ‘Here massage this, make this a little clearer for us’.”

“If you talk to five, ten, fifteen, twenty people, be realistic of what you think you can achieve because you’re going to put this out either through the existing property owner or once you do that [and] the existing property owner says ‘I dont’ want to do that’, then you can put it out for a Request For Proposal. That’ll be done by the borough council. You folks are very important as the land use board. You set that tone and tenor [of] how and what you want to see. But what you have to be careful of is now is the time to decide amongst yourselves to get some consistency: building type, facade, height, what you want to see on the first floor. I’ve designed places where we’ve had retail on the first, professional offices on the second, and then the third and fourth floor would be residential . . . I would always caution you [on] how you want to do the residential. I don’t ever like to go below 800 square feet. You want to keep it to two bedrooms. You don’t want to have a transient type of residential; that destroys the neighborhood. What you want is consistency whether it’s an older couple that now want to get out of their house and have nice small [place] and they want to go downstairs and have a cup of coffee or have dinner . . . ”

He offered a personal example of what was done in Lyndhurst, where he serves as the town planner. He cited, “We’re doing something that’s very unique that most planners don’t like to do . . . if you put a guaranteed restaurant on the first floor – a minimum of 1,500 square feet – I’ll give you an extra four residential [floors] on the top, I’ll give you a fourth floor, instead of the two that are above it. Most planners don’t like to do [that], most towns don’t like to do [that] but you’ve got to think outside the box and who do you want to encourage? Do you want to encourage millennials? Do you want to encourage millennials and middle-income people? Do you want to have mostly seniors? Do you want to have some senior – not assisted housing but senior units in there? You’ve got your Mt. Laurel in terms of your 20%, your set asides. You’ve got to think of how you want to blend this and how you want to construct a building: u-shaped, flat, horizontal, three or four [stories], we can make it look ugly or we can make it very functional.”

Mr. Harms concluded the discussion by saying, “There’s a lot of things that we have to think about going forward.”

The report was accepted and the MLUB recommended that the Sullivan property be deemed an area in need of redevelopment.

Meetings, although mostly mundane unless there are ‘hot button topics’, are integral parts of how government works and is important to residents. Although the agenda for the October 16th MLUB meeting was – on paper – uneventful, the information provided by an expert on the record was extremely informative and relevant to the public.

It was provided to an audience of about six people.

The next scheduled MLUB meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 3, 2018, in council chambers of the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.

Photograph courtesy and property of Dennis Cabarle.