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Churchill-Millstone Redeveloper Wants 10-Year Agreement Extension

Architect Seth Shapiro, far left, speaks to the township Redevelopment Agency Board of Commissioners Oct. 15.


The company that is redeveloping the Churchill-Millstone roads area says it needs another 10 years to finish the task, and its founder wasn’t above putting some not-so-subtle pressure on a township agency to get it.

Edward Martoglio, founder of the RPM Redevelopment Group of Montclair, told the township Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Commissioners Oct. 15 that a proposed low-density housing project along Blair Avenue – the next phase in the area’s redevelopment – may go by the wayside in favor of a high-density project if the company doesn’t get the 10-year extension.

“We’ve got two-and-a-half acres that we have redevelopment rights to,” he said, referring to the area where 40-50 townhomes are planned. “That’s not the only thing we can do with those parcels. There are other options. I would like to know that we’re moving in the right direction and we’re moving in a direction where we could get an extension of the redevelopment agreement for another 10 years.”

The “other option” Martoglio referred to is developing the area at 50 units per acre, which is allowable under the agreement.

The current redevelopment agreement between the township and RPM expires in 2021. The original 10-year agreement was struck in 2008; a three-year extension has already been agreed to.

RPM has already built Voorhees Station and the Berry Street Commons along Route 27, as well as the Franklin Boulevard Commons and Parkside townhomes and senior residence, which are not part of the redevelopment area.

In May 2017, RPM received Planning Board approval for what’s now called Somerset Square, a 151-unit rental project targeted for a parcel bordered by Berry Street and School and Voorhees avenues.

Seth Shapiro, an architect with Barton Partners, told the commissioners of the next phase, which would be 40-50 market-rate townhomes along Blair Avenue.

Martoglio told the agency’s commissioners that he needs to know soon if they’re amenable to the extension so that his company can decide if they would continue with that low-density project, and what form the redevelopment will take going forward.

Martoglio also told the commissioners that they “have to have a serious talk about condemnation.”

Under the current agreement, RPM is permitted to build up to 50 units per acre in the redevelopment area. That would mean that it could build more than 100 units in the 2.5-acre parcel along Blair Avenue, where up to 50 are now being planned.

The agreement also gives RPM the right to have the township exercise its Eminent Domain powers over property owners in the redevelopment area who will not sell to RPM.

The township has been loathe to exercise that power, however, only doing so when no other option is available. Condemnation was used to acquire the former Buist property to include it in Somerset Square, but only after extensive talks broke down.

Martoglio said that after months of meetings, RPM has “heard” what the agency wants to see in the redevelopment area: more open space, fewer affordable units as opposed to market-rate units, and an emphasis on ownership rather than rentals.

“You asked for all this stuff from us,” he said. “The expectation is that you’re going to say, ok, you’re giving us what we want, let’s talk about phasing but let’s move toward an extension in the redevelopment agreement.”

“Based on months of discussion, we’ve come up with a plan based on what I understood the committee wanted,” he said.

But the commissioners were not completely satisfied with the proposal for the latest project. One thing that was noticeably missing, several said, was the open space they’ve been asking for for years.

Township Councilman Carl Wright (D-Ward 4) led the charge.

Wright objected to two areas identified in the Blair Avenue plan as open spaces. One, he said, retains water when it rains. Teh second, located next to Route 27, “is not usable.”

“Somewhere in this plan, you’ve got to have more green space,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. There’s got to be a play area, there’s got to be a tot area. There’s got to be something.”

Wright said the green area planned for the Somerset Square project isn’t enough.

“My question is, where is the green space, legitimate green space,” he said. “You’re going to put all these people here. This little patch over there, that don’t cut it because you have so many people, what are you going to do?”

Shapiro said Wright’s point was a good one, and suggested that they rework the plan “and start highlighting the open space framework.”

“We need to figure out what the spaces need to be, and how to program them properly,” he said.

The commissioners also did not accede to Martoglio’s hope that he would get a quick decision on the 10-year extension.

“Because this is really the first time we are seeing a lot of this, I think we need a little bit of time to digest it,” Commissioner Bob Mettler said. “I am not opposed to an extension at all, but I think we have to think about what form that will take. It might not be quite the same form it is now. We need to have a chance to talk about that.”

“Thank you very much, but I think the best thing would be for us to come back to this in November,” he said.

“For me, I would like to digest what’s the average amount of time for a redevelopment agreement,” Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois said. “Ten years is a long commitment.”

“We need at least one meeting, I’d prefer two, to discuss all these different issues that we need to,” said Commission chairman Michael Gianotto. “It’s going to take at least 30 days by the time we can get back together again, and then a second meeting, maybe a week or two weeks later, so that we can hash through and make sure we come back here with something concrete to give you, with some direction to take.”

 

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