Edison Redevelopment Project Gains Preliminary Council Approval

Council passes two ordinances on first reading, approves resolution

[Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m.]

The plan to redevelop the Thomas Edison battery building on Main Street is one step closer to becoming reality.

Following more than two hours of public comment Tuesday, the township council approved a resolution and passed two ordinances on first reading, authorizing the finances for

Phase I calls for 333 luxury apartment units for-rent and 18,500 square feet of retail space in the Edison battery building. It will also include a 635-space parking garage and a Jitney service to both the Orange and South Orange New Jersey Transit train stations.

The approved resolution grants a 30-year tax exemption for the developer, Prism Capital Partners, LLC.

The township will instead enter a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Prism, whereby the developer agrees to pay a reduced amount to the township instead of regularly applied real estate taxes.

The PILOT payments are predicted to be roughly $950,000 in the first stabilized year, according to Eugene Diaz of Prism. The PILOT will increase every five years in the 10th year at a greater percentage than regular taxes to reduce the difference. 

The first ordinance authorizes the township to issue $6.3 million in general obligation bonds to the developer to pay for infrastructure costs and places a special assessment on the property. The second ordinance outlines the financial agreement between the township and Prism.

As part of the agreement, the developer agrees to repay 50 percent of the issued bonds to the township, with interest.

Residents React

Residents were torn on the issue and while some praised the plan, others questioned the financial partnership between the township and the land's developer.

Donna Uher, a resident of Llewellyn Park said, "I love history, but I don't want to pay for it. Public-private partnership, great. But why does my part of the partnership have to be putting up money to guarantee? Do I get a part of the profit if it's successful? You (Prism) take that risk and leave me out of it."

Others said issuing the bonds to the developer was comparable to giving them a "bailout."

"This developer doesn't have the financial wherewithal for this project. They never had it, they are looking for a bailout," said resident Kevin Malanga.

While the dissenters agreed something needed to be done downtown, most were staunchly opposed to the issuance of bonds by the township.

Councilman Sal Anderton, who also sits on the redevelopment committee, said he was "open-minded" to residents' concerns, and clarified the financial risk involved with the project.

Of the $6.3 million in bonds, he said $3.1 million of the debt service would be paid back by a special assessment on the property. "It's not something that is going to come out of tax dollars that you and I pay … What's the impact on your taxes? None. The impact is entirely on the properties that receive the special assessment," he said, adding that issuing assessments were not unprecedented in the township.

In addition, the township will receive revenue generated from the project that will pay for the other half, he said. The township's risk is "contained," he assured.

Many cheered the move and said it was a long time coming.

"I think we've talked enough, it's time to stop talking and start doing something about making that property a vital part of our community," said resident Bill Sullivan.

"Partnerships are two way streets … both sides have to give something, both sides have to make some type of commitment for the greater good. The greater good here is that hole in the wall."

John McElroy, a downtown business owner, said the project would bring jobs to the township and benefit the business community in town, "The revitalization will bring hundreds of new residents downtown."

Councilwoman Patricia Spango said she was sympathetic to residents' complaints and was also concerned about the accuracy of the traffic study, parking and public safety issues.

Spango, though, maintained that she believed the project would benefit the entire community. "I've seen the change and the deterioration of this site. I am a firm believer that as goes Main Street, so goes the town. If we don't do something, it's going to trickle throughout the town."

Affordable Housing Concerns

Councilman Joe Krakoviak thanked everyone for packing the auditorium at Thomas A. Edison Central Six School where the township meeting was held.

However, he expressed explicit concern with the affordable housing obligation required by the project.

State law requires a municipality to meet an affordable housing obligation whenever they build a house or commercial building, he said. But while the township incurs that obligation, the developer usually meets it.

Phase I will require about 44 affordable housing units, Krakoviak said, adding that the township is planning on getting a waiver so the obligations will not have to be met in the first phase.

"We are going to take a huge risk if we allow that to happen and if the state gives us the waiver to do that," he said. "I am very concerned about us moving off this obligation without getting any risk management in place, something that makes sure that we don't have to pay for it."

The council will meet March 6 to vote on the ordinances on second reading.

If both ordinances are approved as well as additional resolutions next meeting, the developer must still garner approval from the zoning board before proceeding with construction. Construction is expected to take 20 months.

Paul P February 25, 2012 at 07:13 AM
I liked the other township attorney from the previous administration, at least he wasn't shady
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 07:31 AM
I've changed my mind. I fully support the Edison building project. Those units are going to rent like hot cakes. The major selling points according to the market study was that people will flock to them for the chance to live in an upscale community, in a historic building, that has high ceiling and nice toilets.
Tom February 25, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Oh Garry! You are such a Hero! We should approve all your ideas immediately! Thank you King Garry!
Gary Englert February 25, 2012 at 05:09 PM
@ Paul P: Please spare us all the righteous indignation. It's absolutely impossible to be at a "personal level, insulting people, calling them names and pretty much acting in a threatening manner" with a couple of anonymous morons cowering behind computer keyboards somewhere out in cyberspace. Accordingly, I'm identifying you as exactly what anyone with half a brain is able to discern you are, given what information we have: a cowardly, anonymous Internet nitwit spewing unsubstantiated nonsense. Deal with it.
Gary Englert February 25, 2012 at 07:15 PM
You "liked the other township attorney from the previous administration, at least he wasn't shady?" Gee, I guess you missed his being charged with, and pleading guilty to, embezzlement and his subsequent disbarment, huh?
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 07:41 PM
The apartments will have a doorman. That sealed the deal for me. A fancy apartment, in a upscale community, with high ceilings, fancy faucets, and a doorman. If the front is facing main street, will the doorman be stationed there? Is he (or she) going to be like those doormen in NYC, in green suit with a top hat and white gloves? I can see a very well to do woman, in a mink stole , asking the doorman if he knows of a pharmacy and pizza place close by ? " Well of course madame" he replies in a British accent. "The very ritzy Rite is to the left, and the 5 star Dominos pizza is just to thee right madame"
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 08:32 PM
So it's not really a doorman, it's a security guy who sits at a desk. Well that minor mistake in the brochure still won't dissuade me from renting there. The amenities alone make it worth it. The units , with the well noted high ceilings, and large windows, are the perfect place to throw a dinner party for my new hip neighbors. My butler , Mr. Belvidere will serve Wheat Thins with cheese, and stare at the gorgeous view of the sun setting over the auto body shop.
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Not from my unit, I want one close to street level, no way I'm parking my car in the parking garage. That's a big hassle, having to leave my apt, walk down the hall, get on an elevator, go to parking garage, use card key, leave parking garage. I'm parking out front. So you're wrong, the view my guests will gaze at , is the auto body shop.
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 09:19 PM
From a conceptual view, a sunset can be seen from anywhere, with a western view. The horizon can differ from where a person is standing. Yes the mountain will obscure the view of the sun setting "over the mountain" but my view will be of the sun setting over the horizon I can see from my apt window in Edison Village. The lowest apartments are on the 2nd floor, over the ROR'S , and if I grab the apt I want, then those gorgeous large windows, will capture the last rays of light as the suns sets from my angle, over the body shop. But why take my word for it, Google Maps street view of Main St shows the sun setting over the body shop. Your just jealous of the views I'll have over the upscale community that will surround my new apt, that I will use for entertaining hot chicks, and if they are lucky, I'll show them my granite counter tops, wink.
Tina Thomson February 25, 2012 at 09:19 PM
After reading the comments from individuals on the above article I would like to express my disappointment. The thread became nothing more than an insult, mudslinging banter between individuals on a public forum. I have lived in this town for over 23 years and was insulted by the tone of the posts. This is a poor reflection on the town of West Orange for residents and non-residents who might read it.
Gary Englert February 25, 2012 at 09:25 PM
@ Tina Thompson: I've lived in town for 51 years and post under my own name specifically toward refuting the kind of anonymous nonsense and character assassination that seems to pervade this and other message boards. So long as websites and webmasters allow people to hide their identities behind screen names, this virus of incivility will only grow. I reserve the right to offer my opinions, as well as defend them and myself when attacked...which is precisely what I'm doing here.
BESkala February 25, 2012 at 09:28 PM
I agree with Tina Thomson. Stick to the topic.
Tom February 25, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Approving the project as rentals is very far from the project the residents of West Orange were sold. The project would not have been approve as rentals. It has been a "Bait and Switch" And I believe when the project does not perform as the developers have promised, they will be back again to change the deal/scope...Again Rentals are a bad idea for the area.
Paul P February 25, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Tom, a better analogy would be, if they told you they were going to build a 5 star restaurant there, and they they turn around say they are building a McDonald's instead, because due to economy people would rather have a cheap cheesburger, than an overpriced steak. Would you think that was a bait and switch ?
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 12:31 AM
@ Tom: A little analogy Tommy: as you "walk Main Street every day," do you give a second thought about whether or not the cars parked or passing you on the street have been purchased outright, financed, leased or possibly rented? I could ask precisely the same question about the homes and buildings along your path; do you know or why do you care? What it all boils down to is that there are various methods of financing fundamental needs that, in the broad scheme of things, makes no practical difference. You're sounding like the proverbial broken record and there has NOT been any "bait and switch." Funding is no longer availabe for condominium construction and mortgages; there is constuction and mortgage funding, however, if Edison Village is a rental property. It's no more complicated than that and repeating nonsense won't make it any truer with subseqent tellings.
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 12:52 AM
@ Paul P: That would be a bad analogy as there's a considerable difference between let's say Highlawn Pavillion and Mickey D's but, none at all between Edison Village as condos or a rental property. The design, amenities, fit, finish, even the toilets are exactly the same; the ONLY difference being that the fannies sitting on them will be paying rent instead of making a mortgage payment. Why? Because financing for condo projects disappeared with the financial crisis and is no longer available. That's NOT "bait and switch" but, practical reality. It's no more complicated than that and repeating nonsense won't make it any truer with subseqent tellings.
Tom February 26, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Well said, Paul Thanks
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 02:25 AM
@ Tom: "Well said, Paul? Hardly but, nothing you've posted thus far has any basis in common sense, let alone docmentable fact. Nothing about the basic design of Edison Village has changed, only the payment method of those wishing to reside there.
Paul P February 26, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Renters instead of buyers. How will this drastic change affect the services, schools, traffic etc of the area ? Will the money the town collects from the Pilot program be stretched thinner due to this "drastic change" Seems the exclusivity that comes with owning high priced condo units suddenly disappears, when you open it up to people who are just renting., and now they are merely apartments.
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 03:27 AM
@ Paul P: Fair questions but, the independent market study done by Coldwell-Banker in November suggests otherwise. Condos, townhomes and luxury high-rise rental properties simply do not contribute to school populations the way single family detached housing does...as all historical data and our experience in West Orange clearly indicates. The peak school population in our history was circa 1970 when there were +7,000 students in the public schools. Despite the condo-townhome boom of the 1980s and 90s, we've yet to reach that level. Ergo, there was sufficient housing to domicile that many students 40 years ago. With more than 15,500 housing units in town, these 333 luxury apartment are a vertiable drop in the bucket. The far greater risk to the schools will come from turnover of single-family homes by the WWII generation (now in their peak mortality years) and their children (the "Baby Boomers") who have already reached or are nearing retirement. The risks associated with Edison Village pale in comparison. And it's far from a "drastic change!" Same design, same amenities, same number of units, same population, same projected income demographic...rent payment rather than mortgage for residents...and that's it.
Jack Durschlag (Editor) February 26, 2012 at 02:25 PM
OK, folks. I have gone in and deleted some of the more obnoxious attacks in this comment stream. I had hoped I wouldn't have to remind folks of the terms of service for Patch users and you'd self-govern yourselves. The comments are getting too personal. I'm going to be forced to close comments for this article if people don't quickly become more civil and stop with the personal attacks and insults. This is the last warning.
wohopeful February 26, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Thank you Mr. Durschlag. While a passionate topic some can never seem to refrain from personal attacks, name calling and references to inappropriate language. It does nothing to promote a civil discussion and debate on the matter.
James Johnston February 26, 2012 at 04:54 PM
i must agree with Tina Thompson and the other posters who decry the vile and vicious comments from Mr. Englert and several others, who have turned a spirited debate into an adolescent shouting match. Wrap yourself in the flag, invoke the spirits of our forefathers, but stick to the facts without stooping to personal attacks on everyone who holds a different opinion. The strident and insulting comments serve only to undermine your position and demean yourself.
Tom February 26, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Hey people lets stick to the topic. What are your positions on main st project? Do you think the project should be converted from Condos to Rentals?
Adam Kraemer February 26, 2012 at 06:19 PM
My issue with the downtown redevelopment is philosophical in nature. I don't think our municipal council or others involved are doing any thing for personal gain or out of bad will. The intent of improving downtown is sincere and good. The issue that the local government should not pick winners and losers in the real-estate market. Also it is not the function of government to mitigate risk for those who invest in a given property. If Prism does well with in the confines of a free market that is great for them and those that invest with them. If not and the loose money that is the risk that grown up investors take and corporations take and and the downside should not show up on the books of the township and as a liability for us taxpayers in any way shape or form. Also tax abatement is just an other word for shift the cost to someone else and guess what we the taxpayers are that someone else.
Paul P February 26, 2012 at 06:22 PM
It's an insult to the voters and tax paying citizens of a town, when they are being told, this is the way it is, it's this or nothing, to bad. Yes, at this point it seems the project is a done deal. But how we got here is still a tangled web of insider deals and lack of transparency. This piece of property was packaged in a deal with the sale of the Organon property. A group of secret investors was put together by the then town attorney, to purchase the Organon property, while this same town attorney was "consulting" with the then mayor and govt on the redevelopment plan and districts. We were told no one wanted to buy Organon property at the time so the then town lawyer took the proactive step to find a group of investors to buy the property, without any bidding from other outside investors, because supposedly no one was interested in the property. This is called pay to play, common in NJ , not totally illegal, but very shady. So forgive me if I dredge up the past as we look into the future of this project that has been "forced" upon the town. Maybe they should finally admit that this project is only going forward, not because it was the best one for the town, but it was the one they are now being forced to agree with.
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 06:23 PM
@ James Johnston & wohopeful: Please spare us the very selective, righteous indignation.as I engaged in totally civil discourse until personally attacked and seeing others' character assassinated anonymously. I feel no need to apologize for defending myself and others here as I wrote nothing I would have been ashamed to say in public or to anyone's face, if being attacked in such fashion. The problem is the people so inclined would never do such a thing without the cover and anonymity provided by a screen name.. If The Patch truly wishes to further civil discourse it will require people to register and use their verifiabnle given names when posting, rather than the "imaginary friends" we all should have long since outgrown. I'm please that the majority of my substantive posts remain here as the information is both germane and accurate.
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 06:40 PM
@ Paul P: Your analysis and summary are a complete obfuscation of what occurred, during the project's history and without basis in fact. Again, and as previously advised, if you have proof of malfeasance, misfeasance and/or anyone's violation of any fiduciary responsibility to the public, there are appropriate law enforcement authorities and agencies to which they can and should be brought. Absent your doing that, your anonymous nonsense is nothing more than that.
Paul P February 26, 2012 at 06:50 PM
In the age of identity theft, govt eavesdropping, the ability for strangers to poke and prod into our personal lives, and for personal safety, a bit of anonymity is not a bad thing. A first name, and living in the town, is enough " credentials" for me exchange information and thoughts, with others in this forum. This was and is a bad project for West Orange. The PILOT money alone is a drop in the bucket and cannot possibly cover the added expense brought on, by even a small number of new citizens in town. A few years down the road our taxes will have to cover these overages. All it takes is one family with a special needs child moving into town, and half the PILOT money is gone, poof. And that's just one example.
Gary Englert February 26, 2012 at 06:57 PM
@ Adam Kraemer: Your issue is then with the legislature as both the theory and concept of redevlopment has long been accepted as a public good, with rules and regulations to encourage it promulgated and memorialized in public law. We cannot in good conscience have some paradigm shift after following the proscribed criteria for most of a decade and having induced an entity to invest +/- $60 Million in Edison Village. Your continuing this line of discussion only encourages the uniformed to revisit related issues that have long been decided and are no longer germane, such as the general nature of the desgn and mixed-use nature that have long since been approved. The salient remaining issues to be determined are pretty much twofold: 1. Should the Township allow a change from condo sales to rentals (in the residential portion of the project) in order that the developer can secure financing? 2. Should the Township approve the issuance of $6.3 Million general obligation bonds (to finance infrastucture improvements and public amenities), the carrying costs for which will be covered (50-50) by an annual "special assessment" (against Prism) and income from the PILOT. That is where our atttention should be devoted as nothing else is truly open for discussion; most everything else having been examined, debated and approved.


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