Senior Housing Update: 2,601 Days And Counting

In November of 2010, then-Mayor Joseph DeIorio – along with members of 2010’s council including current Mayor Carl Hokanson – held a ‘groundbreaking’ for Roselle Park’s proposed senior housing complex. The golden shovel ceremony had the mayor and all-but-one member of council accompanied by then-Domus Corporation CEO Dr. Philip Frese and Monsignor Kevin Hanbury from the Archdiocese of Newark who gave a blessing for the project. Domus Corporation is a non-profit housing development company that is part of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark and is the firm spearheading the senior housing complex in the borough. Then-Mayor DeIorio stated at that groundbreaking, “It’s been a promise that I’ve made . . . I’m glad that I can finally be here to put the shovel in the ground before my term ends.”

For over a decade, the municipality has gone back and forth trying to address senior housing. In 2007, Domus made a presentation during a municipal meeting about how it could address senior housing dependent upon the municipality passing a resolution supporting the project and having the governing body adopt a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) ordinance for the project. At that time, there was no definitive location cited for where the building was to go. In the November 8th 2007 Mayor & Council meeting, then-Borough Clerk Doreen Cali emphasized that senior housing would cost the borough nothing because Domus would pay for all the construction and maintenance of the buildings.  There would be no impact to any taxpayer to construct the buildings.

In 2009, senior housing was included as a component of satisfying the borough’s Coalition On Affordable Housing (COAH) requirements that resulted from a settlement with AvalonBay Communities to have them drop a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit that the developer brought against the borough when it wanted to develop a 249-unit residential apartment complex on the site commonly known as the Romerovski property along West Westfield Avenue right next to the train overpass.

In 2010, the Roselle Park Department of Public Works (DPW) – located at 180 West Webster Avenue across the street from Roselle Park High School – was the location named as where senior housing was to go and the DPW would move to the corner of Laurel Avenue and Seaton Avenue and have a new complex constructed. The price tag for that project has been budgeted at $3.2 million. These funds have been approved through capital budgets throughout the year and are taken from property taxes.

In 2011, then-Mayor Joseph Accardi stated in response to a question from resident Milt Woodruff that while there were some NJ DEP (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) concerns with the DPW area, they would be addressed by Domus Corporation as part of the project.

Now, seven years after that groundbreaking, the sign – with a rendition of the original propsed complex – still stands but Dr. Philip Frese is no longer Domus’ CEO, Monsignor Hanbury has passed away, there is a new borough clerk, Council-At-Large Hokanson has been elected mayor, councilman-at-large elect DeIorio is on his way back to the governing body after a seven-year absence, and senior housing has yet to have one actual shovel of construction break ground.

Three months ago, resident Jacob Magiera asked for an update on the project at a Mayor & Council meeting. At that September 7th municipal meeting, Mayor Hokanson stated that the municipality was waiting on Phase III Environmental Site Assessment of the cleanup on the site. According to NJ DEP a Phase III investigation deals with treatment; Phase I is survey/site identification and Phase II has to do with evaluation.

Mr. Magiera asked during the public comment portion in September, “Are we putting up any money for the cleanup?”

“No,” responded Mayor Hokanson, “There is a grant going out to ask the DEP to help us.”

When Mr. Magiera asked what if NJ DEP does not end up helping, Mayor Hokanson replied, “[Then] there’s a problem.”

On October 19th, more information was provided to the public. Mayor Hokanson – in reference to the status of the senior housing project – said, “HUD is not coming up with the money and we’re still negotiating with the cleanup . . . We are in the process of talking to the DEP.”

Borough Clerk Andrew Casais provided more detail, “They’re still doing testing to see the extent of contamination at the DPW site, if at all. The DEP is funding that investigation right now at the DPW site. We received a grant a couple of years ago. We have a supplemental grant application in and we’ve been in talks with DEP since the submission of that supplemental grant application which, I believe, was some time last year. I was not here for it.”

Mr. Casais continued, “Domus is applying to HUD with a very high amount in for remediation efforts. Unfortunately, that is one of the issues that they’re running into [because] HUD won’t fund something that is considered that contaminated but that’s just a ballpark estimate because we need the completion of the DEP study and that’s why we are seeking supplemental monies from DEP to ensure that the investigation there is accurate and correct and complete. If we were to stop right now it won’t be complete and it will probably inhibit Domus from every getting the amount that is needed. This is an ongoing process. It is very frustrating for everybody.”

In October, Mr. Magiera asked if this project could end up going on for five or ten years.

“Hopefully not,” answered Mr. Casais, “Everybody is working very hard to make sure that that is not the case.”

Mayor Hokanson added, “These gentlemen have driven down to Trenton to get this thing moving . . . [We’re] trying to get that elephant off our back too but they have another meeting scheduled down in Trenton that these gentlemen will be attending.”

The two men who Mayor Hokanson was referring to were Mr. Casais and the borough’s chief financial officer (CEO), Ken Blum.

Mr. Casais clarified that everyone is still waiting for that meeting to be scheduled. On November 2nd, the borough clerk stated, “We are still waiting to hear back from the DEP on our supplemental funding application to do [a] preliminary assessment of 180 West Webster Avenue.”

As the year comes to an end, what started as an interdependent situation where the moving of the DPW was tied to senior housing has now become two separate issues with members of the govenring body and municpality stating that DPW will move, regardless of when – or whether – senior housing is built. With respect to paying for the DPW yard, to put it in laymen’s terms, local taxpayers – through captial budget appropriations and debt service – are already paying not only the $3.2 million budgeted amount but interest on something that has not even been built yet. As for senior housing, since it can only go on publicly owned property unless a private company wishes to build it on privately bought land, the slow and unsure process continues with today marking day 2,601 after that initial groundbreaking ceremony in November of 2010.