Planning Board to Decide on Irvington Ave Studies August 4

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The South Orange Planning Board decided on Monday, July 7 to table taking action on redevelopment studies for eight parcels of land along Irvington Avenue.

The Board made the decision after a series of events prevented members of key committees involved in the process to attend the meeting and testify.

After Planning Board Chair Harold Colton-Max determined that there was no statutory requirement to act on the studies immediately, the board decided it would prefer to wait until representatives of the committees involved in the selection of parcels would be available to testify.

The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 4.

In an email to The Village Green, Irvington Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee (IACAC) Chair Doug Zacker said he would be at the August 4 meeting.

“When discussing whether to commence with a redevelopment study and the areas the study would address, the IACAC, together with the town’s Development Committee, had many of the same questions that the Planning Board asked. Because the IACAC is made up entirely of residents of the Irvington Avenue neighborhood, some of whom are also business owners in the neighborhood, we had the advantage of being intimately aware of the hyper-local context of these questions.”

On June 23, the South Orange Village Trustees voted to authorize the Planning Board to investigate whether eight parcels of land along Irvington Avenue should be designated as “areas in need of redevelopment.”

Such a designation would allow the properties to be eligible for tax abatements and other incentives. The proposed redevelopment studies are part of a number of initiatives to improve Irvington Avenue, including the formation of the Irvington Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee last January.

Town planner Susan Gruel explained the two steps in going forward with a redevelopment plan.

The first is a study to see if the areas meets statutory criteria for a study. Once the study is prepared it comes to the Planning Board which then holds a public hearing through “a very rigid notice criteria” to the affected properties and the general public. The Planning Board ultimately hears the public comment and recommends all, part or none of the areas as redevelopment areas. That recommendation then goes to Board of Trustees where the Trustees, by resolution, make a determination to accept or ignore the Planning Board’s recommendation.

The second step, said Gruel, if the parcels are designated redevelopment areas, is to create a redevelopment plan. She said that the redevelopment plan is a hybrid between an master plan and an ordinance and is adopted by the Board of Trustees but with input from the Planning Board.

Gruel pointed out that there is one more portion of the Irvington Avenue study resolutions: to study whether or not the entire village can be designated as a rehabilitation area, a designation that would make short-term tax abatements and other incentives available to the community.

Board Chair Harold Colton-Max asked Gruel whether the redevelopment area designation would “enhance the ability to use eminent domain.”

“I’m glad you asked that question,” said Gruel.  In short, she answered, yes, that the governing body designated the condemnation option for these parcels — if the parcels are indeed deemed eligible as redevelopment areas and approved as such.

“There was quite a bit of discussion about that with input from the committees,” said Gruel.

Planning Board member Michael Miller questioned why specific parcels had been chosen and not the entire corridor: “Usually … you are looking at large blocks of contiguous land and here we’ve got it helter skelter around. For argument’s sake #5 … I don’t know what you’re going to redevelop it into just looking at the size. …. Was there a rational as to again why skipping some of the houses and yet taking other of the houses?”

Gruel responded, “Yes, there was a extensive amount of discussion.” Gruel said that the intent was to be selective and “look at opportunities that exist.” She said that the idea was not to be “like old urban renewal projects that clear an area and start over.”

However, Trustee Sheena Collum has said that the village is not anxious to invoke eminent domain.

“We can point to the Center and that is a redevelopment area,” Collum told The Village Green in a previous interview. “Only once has the village used eminent domain [on the former Shop Rite site]. The village doesn’t have a history of taking people’s property.”

Collum stressed that the designation is being sought in order to access the incentives that are available.

Regarding Miller’s comment about “helter skelter” redevelopment, Gruel pointed out that the rehabilitation study would include the entire corridor: “Taken together the studies represent a comprehensive plan for the area.”

Irvington Avenue parcels to be studied for rehabilitation/redevelopment

Irvington Avenue parcels to be studied for rehabilitation/redevelopment

Collum who is a Trustee representative on the Irvington Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee said that the delay was not a setback for Irvington Avenue’s renaissance.

“I fully understand the Planning Board’s decision to table further action until each member feels comfortable understanding Local Redevelopment and Housing Laws as it pertains to the various studies the Board of Trustees wishes to undertake for Irvington Avenue,” wrote Collum in an email.

She continued, “We’ve invested incredible time and resources in making sure that all our stakeholder groups are a part of the decision making process beginning with the market research we conducted in the fall to the creation of the Irvington Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee to seeking guidance from the professionals on our Village’s Development Committee…. Moving together is more important than speed. I don’t view this as a setback in the least bit. Successful revitalization efforts don’t happen overnight.”

Zacker added, “I think this is a great example that nothing significant gets done in our community without many people of varying perspectives signing off on it.”

Zacker said that the he thought the Planning Board was “being very responsible and reasonable by waiting a month to have their questions answered.”

“Considering Irvington Avenue has been ignored for so long,” said Zacker, “a month to wait to ensure we move along responsibly is ultimately an insignificant amount of time.”

Video of the meeting is available here. The agenda for the meeting is available here.

The Planning Board will meet again on Monday, August 4 at 7:30 p.m. on the main stage at SOPAC.

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