The Maplewood Township Committee voted unanimously to authorize a redevelopment agreement with and grant a 30-year tax abatement to Maplewood Urban Renewal, LLC, (aka Avalon Bay), the redevelopment authority for the former PSE&G site on Boyden Avenue.
According the financial agreement, Avalon Bay will pay the Township 10% of the annual gross revenue for the first 15 years of the PILOT. The payments then escalate by a certain percentage for the remaining life of the PILOT.
The amended site plan for the development of the property into a 235-unit rental housing development was approved by the Maplewood Planning Board on March 10.
The votes came after former TC member David Huemer asked officials if safety concerns had been addressed. Mayor Vic DeLuca said the town had been working with Avalon Bay to assure it would take extra safety measures including a higher level sprinkler system, more fire stops and attic insulation. DeLuca also said the Springfield Avenue Partnership was working closely with Avalon Bay on design elements of the building.
Meanwhile, an ordinance introducing a 5-year PILOT agreement with JMF Properties for the development of the Post Office passed 4-1, with Township Committeewoman India Larrier voting against.
After the meeting, Larrier told The Village Green she was “not convinced the PILOT is appropriate for this site.” While she fully supports the PILOT for the PSE&G site, the Post Office is a “a different site with different dynamics.” She noted it is a “prime property,” and that the developer is not constructing any affordable housing units on the site.
Several residents spoke against the tax abatement, arguing that it was unnecessary and doesn’t make financial sense for the township.
“I think you should vote no…” said Huemer. “You’re going to give [the developer] about a $320,000 tax break over five years. If that’s what it takes to get this project [done] that’s another sign this project is not in the best interest of Maplewood.”
Huemer explained that since the value of the improvements on the properties is estimated at $2.8 million, the total value of the land when the project is completed will be $3.5 or $3.6 million — or roughly 1/1000 of the township’s tax base. He asked the township to consider retaining ownership of the land and putting the site to some sort of public use, such as public recreation.
Resident John Harvey of the grassroots group OhNo60 said he was “incredibly concerned” with the tax abatement, noting that JMF would in effect be paying just over $203,000 in taxes over the life of the PILOT.
Resident Dave Helmkamp asked when the agreement would be binding. “If we designate JMF as developer on April 7 and approve the tax agreement, we can sign [the agreement],” said DeLuca. Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan pointed out that the demolition of the building could not take place until JMF owns the building and the site plan is approved by the planning board and the Maplewood Village Alliance Design Committee.
Helmkamp asked when the public could review and discuss the design. DeLuca said they could do so at the Planning Board meeting, which is public. (Editor’s note: The Village Green has reached out several times to JMF for updated site drawings and renderings and will continue to follow up.)
Inda Sechzer, also of OhNo60, implored the township to consider adaptive reuse of the building, calling it “the highest form of sustainability.” She said the opinion previously voiced by several township committee members that the building is “ugly” is not a reason to demolish.
“…there had better be a better reason – a substantive reason, some expression of hardship for the town and its taxpayers,” said Sechzer. “We have heard no such reason or substantiation or even a feasibility study.”
She said the building was a candidate for reuse because it was structurally sound, with generous wide open spaces on two levels, 15-foot ceilings, stone and terrazzo floors, copious natural light and views of the Village and Memorial Park.
“You are moving ahead in your effort to sell the property and demolish the building for no good reason, financial or otherwise.”
Sechzer also asked the committee to hold the developer to higher standards of green building, going further than just LEED certification. “…this proposed building is being designed by the same architect as the Station House” which received very low LEED scores. “Considering the track record, I do not hold out too much hope for improvement.”
Huemer took to the microphone once more to call the plan for the Post Office site a “terrible mistake” that is “incomprehensible.” He said it adds residential housing the town doesn’t need (and no affordable housing), doesn’t meet green sustainability standards and adds no land for public recreation.
He also said it makes no fiscal sense. “There are public uses that would generate more revenue,” he said. He added, “I don’t know anyone…who is well-informed on this project who is in favor of this project.”
“This is land that has been held by the town for almost a century. If you cannot come up with anything that is for the public good…at least do no harm. It’s better to do nothing.”
DeLuca countered, “I know you’re a fierce advocate for more funding for public services. Well, that funding comes from someplace.”
“Not from this project,” yelled Helmkamp from the audience.