On July 9, the South Orange Village Board of Trustees approved a resolution creating an account to collect escrow from the potential developer of the All Star Motors site on Valley Street.
The creation of the account does not lock the town into any development choice, according to Village President Sheena Collum. In fact, Trustee Mark Rosner noted that the Township has created many escrow accounts for potential projects and that those accounts had not signaled approval for those projects.
“We’ve spent too much money on the project and we have no idea if it’s going to move forward or not,” said Rosner. “I would tell them go right to the planning board unless you are going to do this escrow agreement.”
“This is a piece of property that needs to be developed,” said Trustee Karen Hilton, though she voiced her opposition for student housing. She said she agreed with the escrow account designation to “stop the bleeding” on Township costs.
The developer has been proposing a dormitory project for Seton Hall University students. Members of the Academy Heights Neighborhood Association have voiced strong opposition to that use, while the Township’s Development Committee has signaled a more positive view toward student housing on the site, according to Collum.
Several Academy Heights neighbors came to the July 9 meeting to oppose the resolution. Melissa Wood called the proposition of a “luxury dorm” on the site as “wildly unpopular” with neighbors who wanted to see mixed affordable/market rate housing instead.
Academy Heights neighbor A.J. Albrecht told the Trustees resolution 2018-214 did not reflect language that was promised to neighbors. She said that additional language was promised stating that a different project would be proposed with a different use than student housing.
Collum said that she did not agree with the neighbors requested changes: “What we’re doing here is establishing escrow,” said Collum. “This is not necessarily designating a developer.” Collum said it was not typical for the Board of Trustees to ask for such language on the escrow level.
During her comments to the BOT, Melissa Wood noted that the neighbors had created a “Vision for Valley” document [see attached below]. She further clarified to Village Green:
Many residents of Academy Heights aren’t wholesale opposed to new development along Valley. We simply feel that a luxury dorm, which will cater to a very narrow segment of the population, isn’t the right fit for our diverse neighborhood. It also isn’t consistent with transit-oriented development or smart growth principles. President Collum did follow up with us after the BOT meeting and acknowledged that she would like to continue to work with us on a project that is inclusive of the feedback they receive.
Also, it’s worth noting that we’ve had productive conversations with President Collum about the possibility of creating a redevelopment plan for Valley street and appreciate her continued engagement with the community on this issue.