New multi-family housing developments in South Orange and Maplewood are not generating a large influx of school-age children to the South Orange-Maplewood School District, according to South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca.
Instead, continued increased enrollment in the South Orange-Maplewood School District beyond demographers’ projections is due to empty nesters selling to young families, according to town leaders.
Collum made the observation about the multifamily housing developments at a September 8 South Orange Development Committee meeting during which the Lustbader family and their architect presented a preliminary proposal for a 130-unit multi-family housing development at Vose Avenue and South Orange Avenue.
The Village President’s comments that such developments were not bringing in substantial numbers of school age kids caused an immediate stir on social media, and Collum quickly followed up with some numbers.
“Developments such as Gateway, Avenue, Mews, Gaslight, Ridgewood Commons are bringing in kids at a 1 per 30 unit to 40 unit ratio,” said Collum in an email to Village Green. She added that this was “deminimis from a numbers standpoint.”
Collum further explained that “a 100-unit development may bring 3 kids or less… That’s just our consistent statistics. In fact, our vision plan noted 1 per 38 units.” She added, “And many of those kids were once already in the district and, through separations (etc.) and existing parents, went into a rental.”
Collum noted that the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education “has a policy of not giving details of where kids live,” so only ranges could be provided.
South Orange has seen a number of large-scale multi-family housing developments in recent years, from Gaslight Commons, The Avenue, and The Gateway to newer projects like the recently open Third & Valley. More are potentially in the pipeline, including a 100-unit building at Fourth & Valley and a very preliminary proposal for 130-units at Vose Avenue and South Orange Avenue.
In Maplewood, the growth of multi-family housing developments has been more recent, with only two larger-scale multi-family buildings completed and occupied in recent years: The 50-unit Station House on Dunnell Road (with 4 affordable housing units) and the 126-unit Maplewood Crossing (16 affordable housing units) on Burnett Avenue. Under construction: the 235-unit Avalon Bay project on Springfield & Boyden avenue, 20-unit Clarus on Maplewood Avenue, a 25-unit addition to Maplewood Crossing, and a 30-unit building across from Seth Boyden School on Boyden Avenue.
Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca told Village Green, “Our analysis is less than 15 school age children came from [Maplewood Crossing] last year.” Regarding the Station House: “Our analysis is a couple of school age children were generated from this complex the last school year.”
The use of PILOTs — or payments in lieu of taxes — for housing developments has come under scrutiny in recent years. The PILOTs allow developers to forego paying taxes on the full value of the improvements for a period of years and instead make a lesser payment to the town and county — but not the school district (the taxes on the land value of the properties, meantime, continue to be paid in full and to the town, county and district).
The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education has expressed concern over the growing number of multi-family developments in the towns and passed a resolution in 2015 requesting greater transparency regarding PILOTs.
While many of South Orange’s projects (The Gateway, Gaslight Commons, Third & Valley, The Avenue) have received PILOTs in the past, the town has hired a financial consultant to review the financial pro forma of any projects going forward and Collum has promised to be diligent about awarding abatements only if necessary.
For Maplewood’s part, DeLuca noted, “The Station House does not have a tax abatement and is paying $273,000 in property taxes for 2016; of which 58% goes to the schools…. Maplewood Crossing has a 30-year tax abatement… The land taxes for this complex totaled $118,000 in 2016, 58% of which went to the schools.”
Meanwhile in Maplewood, the Avalon Bay project (30-year PILOT), 20-unit Clarus (5-year staggered tax abatement), 30-unit Seth Boyden project (no PILOT or abatement) and a 25-unit addition to Maplewood Crossing are still under construction.
“No other multi-family buildings are occupied,” said DeLuca. “It is impossible to know the number of school-age children. Based on the record of the two occupied buildings, the ratio is less than 1/10 of a student per unit.”
Like Collum, DeLuca says that such developments are not the source of the continued increased enrollment levels at the school district that have outpaced demographer projections over the past ten years.
“The influx of students is from new families with children who are moving into single family homes, replacing empty nesters,” said DeLuca.
Kurt Kiley of Maplewood Senior Share has spent a lot of time canvassing Maplewood neighborhoods in order to locate its senior population and tends to agree with DeLuca’s assessment.
“Anecdotally, I have seen many homes that have been sold by seniors that have been bought by young families. I do not know of any homes that have been purchased by seniors,” said Kiley.
“My view is the large rise in school population now can be attributed to the number of seniors or empty nesters that are leaving Maplewood and being replaced with young families,” added Kiley. Still, he thought that “the apartments will bring more kids over a longer time frame.” Kiley noted that he did not have “numbers to back this up.”
The trend regarding senior flight is real enough that South Orange and Maplewood have brought renewed attention to their senior populations, obtaining a $35,000 grant from the Grotta Fund to study senior issues and retention this year.
And the new multi-family housing developments could be seen as part of the solution instead of the problem, according to some.
At the September 8 South Orange Development Committee meeting, Village President Sheena Collum discussed the potential for attracting downsizing empty nesters to new housing developments.
In 2015, Allison Ziefert of Keller-Williams Mid-Town Direct Realty, wrote that senior clients had a preference for smaller homes and floor plans and were seeking housing options that “allow for access to public transportation and within walking distance of shopping, entertainment and services similar to the ‘millennial’ generation.”
Village Green will continue to follow this story.