NEW BRUNSWICK - City council members Wednesday approved a 30-year tax abatement for construction of a downtown apartment complex for college students, saying it was the best option for developing the vacant property.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the tax abatement, with Councilwoman Rebecca Escobar casting the sole no vote, saying the project for 90 New Street, just off George Street, would add to congestion in the area.

Council members approved the plan for the proposed 21-story building after hearing more than a dozen speakers oppose the abatement, contending it will take tax dollars from city schools.

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“I absolutely would not want to this (project) without the developer paying to the public schools,” said city resident Linda Stark.

Council President Glenn Fleming repeatedly explained the abatement would not take away any funds from city schools.

“You’re saying we’re stealing from kids in public schools. That’s not true,” Fleming told one speaker.

The city planning board previously approved construction of the 21-story apartment building with 186 apartments, as proposed by national development company doing business as New Brunswick Urban Renewal LLC.

Two abandoned buildings sitting on the have been vacant for five years and have become an “an eyesore," Fleming said.

Currently the property generates $207,000 in property taxes, according to city records.

Glenn Paterson, city planning director, said that under the tax abatement, the developer will pay $1.58 million annually as payment in lieu of taxes. That amount would be less than the $2.4 million in taxes that would be collected without an abatement.

However, Paterson said earlier proposals to develop the site failed because of the construction costs.

He said the abatement plan approved Wednesday had been held up a few weeks over the developer’s concern about rising costs.

The developer would make payments to the city and the city would distribute portions to the schools and county, officials said.

New Brunswick, Paterson said, needs housing construction and wants Rutgers University students in the downtown to contribute to support retails stores.

“We welcome the college students. We don’t want them living in the rat traps that some students are living in now,” Paterson said.

Three leaders from construction unions spoke in support of the project, saying it was a “win-win” for workers, including some who are city residents.

“We are in favor of this. We need to do this,” said Phil Mancini, business agent for Sprinkler Fitters Local 696.

City officials said the project could generate more than 500 construction jobs.

The apartments were described as luxury units, and officials said the building will have retail space on the first floor.