SOVCA Working to Retain 3 Businesses Displaced by Vose + Taylor Project

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This story has been updated with additional information and clarifications from Julie Doran, Executive Director of the South Orange Village Center Alliance, and the headline has been adjusted. The previous headline caused confusion as it referred to “assistance.” None of the displaced businesses are receiving any monetary assistance from SOVCA or services outside of SOVCA’s core mission of retaining and attracting new businesses to South Orange Village Center. 

Three businesses being displaced by the proposed 5-story, 110-unit, 12,000-sf commercial space Vose + Taylor project — including the popular Boccone South restaurant — will receive guidance from the South Orange Village Center Alliance in finding new locations within South Orange Village Center, according to Village President Sheena Collum.

Collum made the statement at the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, February 10 and also posted about the assistance on Nextdoor West Montrose on February 2. In a follow up email to Village Green, SOVCA Director Julie Doran stressed that the assistance is not financial and fits within the Alliance’s usual business retention services provided to all SOVCA businesses.

Collum distinctly noted that the businesses were not being displaced by the Township.

“One thing to understand is that this is private property,” said Collum, who said that the redevelopment is “not a condemnation. Leases were never turned over to the Village.” Collum also said that the lease holders were notified five years ago by the landlord about non-renewal of their leases due to the proposed development of the properties as a large-scale mixed use development.

Collum also noted that the Planning Board had ruled that the redevelopment plan for the Vose + Taylor project was consistent with the Master Plan and that the Board of Trustees would be holding a hearing and vote on the redevelopment plan sometimes in March. If approved by the BOT, the developers would next need to submit the site plan to the Planning Board for a comprehensive review.

While Collum pointed out that it is not the obligation of the Village government to “get involved in the relocation of private businesses,” she said that the non-profit South Orange Village Center Alliance, which is partially funded by the Village, would provide support.

In a follow up email to Village Green, Doran clarified: “SOVCA has been, and continues to make these businesses aware of opportunities within the district. In the case of one business who has a potential location we are working along with them to move through the zoning and permitting process.” Doran stressed that SOVCA is not providing “financial assistance or relocation services, etc.”

Doran also pointed out that a Feb. 14 meeting reported by Village Green was NOT with displaced businesses but included “Administration, Planning consultants, the South Orange Parking Authority and SOVCA to start detailing construction mitigation plans as they relate to parking, loading, construction hours and logistics as well as communication to businesses and public once construction starts.”

Read Collum’s comments on the subject posted to Nextdoor West Montrose on February 2:

Neighbors, I join you in your praise for Silvio and Boccone South, what a wonderful local family and restaurant to have in our South Orange community. The proposed redevelopment site is not owned by the Village nor can the Village interfere with the contracts of a private property owners and their tenant. However, I can assure you that the developer has been working in good-faith with his tenants for several years in anticipation of this project. We also have a wonderful resource in Julie Doran, the new Executive Director of our SO Village Center Alliance, who is working to assist the businesses who will be impacted. However, I do think it’s important for provide greater context to this project, the larger vision for our Village and also correct some misstatements that were made.

First, the entire plan can be found on the homepage of our website here:

Affordable Housing Obligations

Absent from most discussions about redevelopment and proposed projects is that South Orange has an agreement to develop affordable housing, something I fully support. This agreement is with Fair Share Housing Center and in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Through our inclusionary zoning ordinance (adopted), 1 in every 5 units will be affordable. Our obligation is roughly 100 and with a 20% set-aside ordinance/30-year deed restriction, we will be developing 500 units in the next 5 years and beginning preparation for our 4th round. This is quite different from past actions where the Village zoned properties (such as Orange Lawn Tennis Club) as a location where affordable housing units would be built but as we all know, that was never going to happen.

Our new plan reflects projects that will be built and spread throughout our 3 commercial corridors along with some projects with nonprofits that are eligible for low income tax credits.

Diversification and Increase in Housing Opportunities

Basic smart growth principles (as one poster noted above) is compact housing options near mass transit and infrastructure and avoids sprawl (which is very costly). We’re a designated Transit Village and infill redevelopment is where our opportunities are. Typically this takes the form of “mixed-use” (retail/services first floor, office space or housing above). I can understand the perspective that some have that South Orange is becoming too crowded but it’s important to understand where that may be coming from. Our population as a community has not changed drastically. In fact, we have the same population as we did in 1970. What has occurred is the amount of pass-through traffic which is very real. South Orange is the heart of 3 major commercial corridors with access points to various highways. As surrounding communities have capitalized on economic development, we remained rather static yet absorbed the traffic from investment outside of our community. This lack of growth has contributed to why 90% of single family homes absorb the tax burden and there’s not a more proportional balance with robust commercial corridors (see Morristown or Montclair). Also, if you consider yourself an environmentalist, these types of developments are what’s best for our environment.

Parking and Traffic

Trip generation from apartments or any type of housing is relatively low. Our parking ratios are consistent with Residential Site Improvement Standards, a 1-to-1 ratio and if we can go lower, that would be great. Think about it this way. A 100-unit housing project will generate less traffic than a 7-11, a Walgreens or pick your favorite restaurant that has a lot of patrons. In fact, office space, retail and restaurants generate significantly more traffic than any project with housing. But the perception of housing often leads people to believe the project is adding significant trips, it’s not. I often hear the concern that there’s no parking and I somewhat agree but also somewhat disagree… We have parking challenges on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during peak nighttime hours. This, understandably, is a result of commuters coming back from work, people patronizing local restaurants, and a whole host of amazing events (arts and entertainment) offered on those nights making our town a destination. However, if you’re here during the day or any other weekday night, I truly ask you to be honest with the parking evaluation. Do we lack parking or do people get frustrated because they can’t get a spot right next to their destination? If people are willing to walk a block or two to their destination, we have ample parking. Our investments can and will be in better mobility, pedestrian safety, bike lanes and alternative transportation. From a financial standpoint, estimate structured parking to be roughly $25k-$28k per spot and underground parking to be roughly $33k-$35k per spot. Can we add more parking? Yes, in redevelopers agreements we can add more public parking as part of a project but that can also increase scale or need a more advantageous financial agreement. Our second opportunity is the western portion of the NJ TRANSIT lot. It would be wonderful to move all commuters and business employees into decks and keep surface parking available for patrons for our small businesses. This has been approached and hopefully with new leadership in NJ Transit and their real estate division, we can restart these conversations.

School Aged Children

First, I don’t believe in exclusionary zoning ordinances but if you want the data, market rate apartments generate an incredibly low number of school aged children. It’s roughly 1 for every 30-40 units built. This has not changed. We’ve done the market analysis on this that was also reinforced by the Vision Plan 10 years ago and is consistent with the very recent Rutgers Study on school aged children in mixed use developments near transit. The exception to this are affordable housing units and those numbers were given to the school board prior to capacity analysis and the subsequent school bond. Because our affordable housing requires affirmative marketing and a lottery system, it’s tough to get an exact science on numbers.

Taxes and Revenue Generation

I also find that the discussion regarding our tax burden is often missing. We cannot, under any circumstances, continue to rely on single-family homeowners to fund operating expenses and capital investments that are sorely needed. Both this project and several others will be in the top 10 revenue generating properties in our town. Between the school bond and the legislature’s inability to maintain the 2-percent interest arbitration cap, it is going to be very difficult for the governing body to maintain services and invest in our infrastructure. When I hear people oppose projects, I also hear “raise taxes” or “cut services” because that is the true tradeoff. These are all choices and a balancing act. During my election, I noted that if we brought 6 projects online, we could basically break even on the capital tax impact for the municipality. That still holds true and this project is a big contributor to that – most notably, our public library renovation. This one single redevelopment project can fund 75% of our public library project costs on a $6M bond if we get the match from the state. This also relates back to my first point about affordable housing. If we don’t achieve compliance through redevelopment, density bonuses and PILOTs, are taxpayers willing to make this investment through property taxes? 100 units of affordable housing would be a $40-$50M bond if not done by the plan as I highlighted above – that’s 1.8 points on our tax rate. Property taxes would go up between $800-$1,000 a year for a 15-year bond at 2.75% interest rate just for this single issue of constructing affordable units. The math doesn’t work and it’s not even a consideration.

The Taylor & Vose Redevelopment Project

• 5 stories, 110 units, 11 onsite affordable units and $825k into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund which will allow us to construct (in partnership with a nonprofit), 40 units of more affordable housing which will serve low income families and adults with special needs.

• Worth noting on the height, it increased by 10+ feet due to two circumstances 1) keeping public parking at grade with surrounding businesses in the adjacent building, South Orange Square, which they advocated for and 2) a storm drain found under the property.

• All public parking will be replaced with a net gain of 10%. All housing units will have underground parking similar to the Avenue.

• 12,00 square feet of new retail space. Please also consider how long Blockbuster has been vacant. This will face both South Orange Avenue and Vose Avenue.

• Contained within the Redeveloper’s Agreement is something I’m very proud of and excited for – 2,000 square feet will come back to the Village for $1/year and the space will be used as an incubator and co-retailing space for our local entrepreneurs who can’t afford rents by themselves. Think of the General Store Cooperative and former SOVCA Pop N’ Shop during the holidays. While details are being worked out, it’s likely this will take the form of a nonprofit board working with our artists, makers, etc. on a shared space which will serve as a retail anchor for our downtown, something we desperately need! It also really helps build a greater sense of community and commerce around our local talent. If you want to be involved with this, please feel free to reach out to me. The more the merrier. And we can also apply a financial benefit to this – going rate for new retail is $35 triple net. Apply that to a 25 year term.

• $1.3M on top of the replacement public parking + $700k in off-site community contributions (again, I’m referencing our public library and Connett building).

• Annual revenue will escalate from 10% up to 15% of annual gross revenue making this the most advantageous financial agreement to our taxpayers, over a tax point for us. The terms in the past have all been 30 years at 10%, no community contributions and certainly no affordable housing with the exception of 3rd and Valley who got a very generous agreement and I’ll leave it at that.

In closing, I think we can all support Sylvio [owner of Boccone South] and hope for a swift and successful relocation and still be mindful of the net positive impact for our community as we pursue this project and various others. Even if you agree to disagree with me about this project and still don’t support it, I hope you can appreciate that there’s a lot of work and thoughtfulness that goes in to these agreements along with a lot of residents, volunteers and professional staff all trying to make our amazing community even better – for existing residents and new neighbors. Thanks, Sheena PS: The former Village Hall is being renovated into a new restaurant and beer garden and will open this year by one of the most reputable restaurant groups in the northeast. The work on the interior continues and the exterior will be renovated to historic standards when the weather warms up.

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