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The West Orange Planning Board unanimously voted to approve changes to the Edison redevelopment plan at its meeting on Wednesday night.
After two delayed votes by the board in July and August, Prism Green Urban Renewal Associates IV LLC, a subsidiary of the redeveloper, finally got approval to nix high-end features,including changing the total number of units, from the original plan approved in 2007.
Conditions to get permits and begin construction remain to be finalized, said Planning Board President Robert Bagoff. These will be drawn up and formally agreed upon at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 10.
Overall, the board seemed in agreement the changes were minor.
“We’ve heard a lot of testimony,” said board member Ron Weston. “... The changes that have been made to some aspects of the architecture are — in my opinion — relatively minor. ... It’s really the same project that was approved and it’s been sitting here, waiting for it to happen.”
“This is the key,” said board member Jerome Eben. “All of the documentation points to the rebirth of the downtown, bringing it back from the brink where it is today.”
“I believe in the redeveloper, I believe in this development, I believe in the plans,” said vice chairman Ben Heller. “... The success of our downtown really does depend on not only projects like this, but projects ... [that] help us redevelop and rebuild our town.”
A list of the changes can be seen at the bottom of this article.
However, the approval did not come without criticism.
Prism is currently delinquent on its third quarter taxes due Aug. 1, which amount to about $114,600, according to the West Orange Tax Assessor’s Office.
It was also revealed Prism was late paying its first- and second-quarter tax bills this year. Prism paid those on July 10.
While the board can deny applications because of delinquent tax bills, Bagoff said it is not unusual for applicant’s to be behind in taxes when going through board proceedings. The board proceeded with the approval, he said, because Prism’s taxes were up to date when the board first met to consider the changes on July 13.
An attempt to impose a condition on the redeveloper that all taxes must be paid before any construction begins was removed after being vehemently argued against by Jean Diaz, one of the principals for the redeveloper.
“A condition with respect to continued payment of taxes is not a condition [available] to this board from a legal standpoint,” said Diaz. “... I am not going to be held to a higher standard than anybody else in the market with respect how we conduct our business.”
The payment of taxes, said Diaz, is governed by ordinances of the township council. The council voted earlier this year to impose a payment in lieu of taxes on the redeveloper for about 30 years, where the redeveloper will pay a reduced amount of taxes.
Another sticking point involved a jitney shuttle, which will not be made available at the outset of the project. Many of the board members and Harvey Grossman, the township’s public advocate, suggested a jitney would alleviate traffic and be advantageous to area residents.
“I think it is shortsighted not to tie a jitney shuttle bus service to this project,” said board member Lee Klein. “... I think it will help market the project.”
Grossman agreed with Klein, saying the proximity of West Orange to mass transit into New York City is what will set West Orange apart from other communities and draw people to the development.
“The jitney system is really integral to this project,” argued Grossman. “A jitney service ... is the last link in a mass transit system that feeds into New York.”
A transportation service from the redevelopment to mass transit hubs nearby, such as the Orange Train Station, will depend on the demand, said Diaz.
Among the various changes to the original 2007 include:
• High-end penthouses were eliminated;
• The average size of rental units was decreased;
• Studio apartments jumped from nine to 33 units;
• One-bedroom apartments increased from 121 to 181 units;
• Two-bedroom apartments dropped from 128 to 82 units; and
• Three-bedroom apartments decreased from 18 to six units.
Read more about the changes here.