Special Planning Board Meeting On Cameco, Bloomfield Avenue Redevelopments

By on February 2, 2019

One of the properties that the Planning Board will be considering is the one outlined in green in the lower left corner of the photo.

The Planning Board will hold another special meeting on Tuesday night, February 5, to determine whether an open lot on the south side of Bloomfield Avenue opposite the Verona Community Center and a series of lots on the north side that include the former Cameco factory meet the criteria of an “area in need of redevelopment”. An area in need of redevelopment determination could make it possible for the Town Council to assert more control over redevelopment in the area.

Block 2205, lot 6 (885 Bloomfield Avenue) is a narrow wedge of land between Bloomfield Avenue and Fells Road. There is a bus stop at the eastern corner and the property is vacant except for a billboard. According to tax records, it is currently owned by A&R Skyline Properties of West Caldwell. Under the current zoning for the area, it could be developed as single-family homes or townhouses.

Block 2301, lots 1 through 19, are a series of properties with different owners along Bloomfield Avenue, Pine Street, Depot Street and Linn Drive. They include the former Cameco factory, which closed last August, the former Poekel Travel Bureau and a vacant lot that once held the Service League daycare center, as well as several houses, Subito Music, West Essex Building Supply, the former Erie-Lackawanna railroad line and a narrow wedge along Linn Drive. 

The second report covers a large number of publicly and privately owned properties.

Verona’s planner, Jason Kasler, has prepared a report asserting that 885 Bloomfield Avenue meets two of the eight criteria that underlie the area in need of redevelopment determination. His separate report on the Block 2301 properties found multiple deficiencies that could also lead to such a determination. Neither report advocates condemnation or an eminent domain action in which authorities would seize a property. And Verona has a precedent for a multi-property designation: After the Annin Flag factory closed in 2013, an area in need of redevelopment was declared around the building and several adjacent properties. 

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Verona’s municipal government currently owns the former Service League lot and the Cameco factory, which it purchased in December 2018 to flip to a builder of affordable housing. The town reached an agreement with the owner of the Poekel property in October 2018 to turn that into a mixed-use development with some affordable housing units. “Affordable” housing means a dwelling that could be purchased or rented by someone with a moderate income, roughly $47,000 to $75,000 a year in our area. It is not the same as Section 8 housing, which is government-subsidized housing for very low-income people.

If the Planning Board agrees with Kasler’s view of the properties, the next step would be for the Town Council to pass a resolution authorizing the Board to establish redevelopment plans for the two areas, which could spell out what could be built there and how it could be built. Any new developments in the areas would still likely have to go through Planning Board or Board of Adjustment review, which would include public hearings.

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These resolutions could also include a recommendation that a property in the areas would pay an alternative to property taxes known as a PILOT agreement that could generate larger payments to the town, but less to the Board of Education. The Hilltop, Verona Place and Annin Lofts apartments are all now covered by PILOT agreements. The PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) approach has been controversial because instead of tax revenues being split between the town (25%), the BOE (55%) and Essex County (20%), 95% of the PILOT money goes to the town, only 5% goes to the County and none goes to the BOE. 

Kasler prepared a similar report on 1 Sunset Avenue, which is now the site of Spectrum 360, a school for special needs children (formerly The Children’s Institute), but the Planning Board met last Thursday and voted against Kasler’s conclusions.

 

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