Belleville resident and tireless community advocate Jeff Mattingly has submitted the following open letter to the Watch in support of our ongoing issue campaign to spotlight and tackle the local abuse of residential redevelopment.
Although this deals with actions specifically undertaken by the Belleville Council, the message itself applies to other municipalities as well.
Here is Jeff’s letter to residents:
CORTLANDT ST. REDEVELOPMENT DECLARED
The Belleville Planning Board voted on November 12th to memorialize (officially classify) an entire block of Cortlandt Street from the railroad easement down and from Joralemon north to Terry Street as “an area in need of redevelopment”.
The largest single landowner of that block owns the entire industrial portion. They happen to be motivated to sell. Their property runs from the corner of Cortlandt Street and Joralemon, west to the railroad easement, then north down to the end of the block at Terry Street behind the backyards of 8 homes that occupy the majority of the block north of the industrial property on Cortlandt to Terry Street.
The portion of the industrial property without buildings is presently rented out to a trucking fleet for truck parking. Their only access is a gated driveway just in from Joralemon on Cortlandt. This area is effectively the southwest corner of the block. Behind the rear property line of the homes, to the railroad easement, is a long narrow industrial building that belongs to the industrial landowner. That building is built from border to border, and being land-locked, is extremely difficult to access.
Presently, all of the properties that share the railroad easements eastern border are industrial. The property’s historic use has been “industrial”. It most likely has industrial pollution on it, and will require remediation to develop anything on it other than industrial.
At the January 13, 2015 ‘pre-meeting’ of the Town Council, a developer – with legal counsel – presented a formal desire to construct 158 residential rental units on that block. He stated that he didn’t believe it would be possible without the approval of a PILOT finance program. PILOT means “payments in lieu of taxes”. In other words, we won’t collect taxes over an agreed-upon length of time, as long as 30 years in many cases, to pay for the associated costs of the redevelopment. The plan also appears to be desirous of including the 8 private homes that they do not own. A realtor has been pressuring the homeowners and those who are renting with cash incentives to move and/or sell. Some do not want to move or sell, but they are feeling the pressure. [Editor’s note: Be on the lookout for upcoming language about blight or eminent domain coming into play]
The landowner, it appears, does not wish to pay to remediate the property themselves, or sell it for industrial use as it is zoned for. Remediation costs for residential standards can not even be calculated at this stage, and would most likely be a critically ignored factor while in the negotiation stage, then come as a big surprise once realized that would expand projected costs. Rather, it looks as though they are seeking to buy up the 8 homes that will smooth the way to gain approval as a requirement of redevelopment, which would enable PILOT financing. He stated that approval of PILOT funding was conditional to the success of the plan.
School One property was approved for housing after it was sold to the town for 1 dollar by the Board of Education. The town (YOU) paid to demolish the building, and also paid to remove any underground contaminates from an in-ground oil tank. This all cost us, the taxpayers, approximately 1 MILLION DOLLARS. The housing was never built, and the lot stands level and idle still to this day.
Last heard, the developer wanted to change the allowed use to now provide for a convenience store and gas station to be constructed there instead of residential. Speculation is, but most likely the case, that the contractor could no longer get private bank funding because it is a bad risk for venture capital in the existing housing market in this area. This is not the only case in the valley where approved residential development has not yet been built.
So why then is it a good idea for the public to take on such a risk to back a land owner who does not wish to pay the costs to clean his own industrial property and develop it himself? You know, the old fashioned way?! All of the taxes are presently being paid on the properties.
There are apartments for rent all over town, driving rents down below sustainability costs. Whether it is a two family home or existing apartment buildings, vacancy rates and existing developments with more to offer are why the private banks are not going to fund this type of development. But residential is all that developers seeking publicly-funded finance vehicles want to build, because they get the highest profits and land values for their time and overhead costs. But, we get the bill for lost taxes under PILOT programs and tax abatements of all kinds. We also get all of the additional costs associated with educating more children (now $13,000 per child per year), schools, services, salaries, pensions and benefits for uniformed workers of all types that are directly associated with higher population from residential development.
While the Council gets the undying love and gratitude of big developers, our taxes continue to go up every year. They go up as they have for every town around us that has gone the path of residential overloading, where our existing rentals become impossible to fill as prices continue dropping due to the glut. Good people are once again left no choice but to seek alternative means to survive. They resort to having to rent more space for less money to pay their ever-increasing expenses. These exorbitant taxes and fees are the high cost of living in mismanaged northern New Jersey, and the greater New York City metropolitan area.
May is coming. Vote for reform, and stop the insanity!