RARITAN, NJ - At its Nov. 26 meeting a request to send a proposal for a luxury apartment complex to the planning board was voted down 4-2 by the borough council, and one of the principals with the project has expressed his regrets at that outcome.
“I was tremendously let down by the vote,” said Morris Neuman.
Neuman is a principal with Orlando Heights LLC, the entity interested in developing the project. He was out of the country on the night of the meeting, but he was represented by Michael O’Grodnick, a Somerville based attorney.
“We’re asking for approval for this to go to the planning board,” O’Grodnick told the council. "This is an exciting project that meets the goals of your master plan."
O’Grodnick introduced the proposal to build a luxury apartment complex on the former Zeus Industrial Products plant site, which Neuman purchased in 2016. Included in the plan were three bordering parcels - the Raritan Laundromat, Skylands Energy and one two-family home.
A rendering of the site build out was displayed, and it was noted that the project architect and engineer were present to answer any questions.
A few points of clarification were initiated by Mayor Charles McMullin. One was about the “right to condemn” the property versus asking outright for condemnation, which would be possible under the NJ Redevelopment Act.
Also under the act is a PILOT - Payment In Lieu of Taxes - program, which could be utilized for this type of project.
Condemning the property could allow for eminent domain, which allows the taking of a property for the public good at fair market value.
“I have zero intention of going the route of eminent domain,” said Neuman in a follow up interview. “I do not want to go there.”
Councilman Paul Giraldi expressed concern about the size of the project, voicing doubt that the building in the rendering would fit on the property. He also questioned the fate of the additional three properties.
None of the council members questioned the engineer or architect about any aspect of the project prior to voting. Councilmen Zachary Bray and Nicolas Carra voted in favor of moving the project to the planning board.
Bray, the mayor-elect, has as one of his goals the revitalization of Somerset Street and the mostly vacant strip mall at the corner of Orlando Drive and Route 206 south. Adding to the borough population could be an inducement for businesses to come into the town.
Carra shared that vision.
“An increase in population near the Raritan Mall could help increase the chances of bringing a new grocery store to town,” he said.
Neuman said he saw great opportunity with the purchase of the Zeus property.
“I fell in love with that little town,” he said. “I’m not just there for the money. I hope that I can allay any fears (about the project) because ultimately I think this will be great for the town and the people. I think this is a one-time opportunity for a project like this on that site and it would be an honor for me to do this.”
He added that he has met casually with the owners of the surrounding properties and has even offered for them to share in the project. However, he said he can’t make any firm offers until he knows if the project will be approved.
Right now, Neuman is keeping his options open. He said he plans to reach out to the council again, but added that he could consider keeping the zoning industrial or applying for a variance and working on a residential plan to include only his 4-acre site.
“Hopefully once everyone understands the project, they’ll all be on board,” he said.