SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — After two decades of local residents and visitors passing by the nearly block-long empty storefronts along South Orange Avenue, which used to house Blockbuster Video and a frozen yogurt shop, and wondering ‘when is something ever gonna happen here,’ an agreement has been reached and a redevelopment plan has passed a first read at the South Orange Village Board of Trustees meeting Dec. 9. The plan would bring in a five-story apartment building with retail space on the ground floor which retains the amount of parking currently in the public parking lot included in the parcel.

In the outline of the plan, which can be seen here on the village website, it says that in response to the empty storefronts — perimetered by South Orange Avenue, Taylor Place, Vose Avenue, and Scotland Road — the “Township of South Orange Village determined that the use of the redevelopment powers grants to municipalities under the LRHL [New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law] would be the most effective approach to revitalize the parcels contained in the Redevelopment Area. 

“The Area was designated by the Township of South Orange Village as an “Area in Need of Redevelopment,” in accordance with the LRHL in 1995 and 1999. The Township of South Orange Village does not intend to acquire any property within the Redevelopment Area for the purposes of executing this Plan.”

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The building at the corner of South Orange Avenue and Vose Avenue, which houses a casual restaurant and a jeweler, is not a part of the redevelopment project. It “was not acquired because it could not be negotiated for and the village was not going to use the powers of condemnation" to seize it. "The property owner just declined, and that’s his right to do so,” said Collum. 

The goals of the redevelopment, listed in the plan, include: high quality architecture, green infrastructure and sustainable design, human–oriented public space, economic development in transit district, blight elimination, and affordable housing.

The plan allows for a maximum of 110 units for dwelling, 20 percent of which must be built in compliance with the Village’s Affordable Housing Ordinance, although up to one-half of the required affordable housing component may be located off-site. There is 24,000 square feet allotted for commercial space, with a notation that no more that 10,000 square feet shall be located above the ground floor.

“We first started this with negotiating from a place of what is consistent with the height and density of The Avenue,” a rental apartment building diagonally across from the site on Vose; it was redeveloped and opened about 12 years ago. “We started with that as a benchmark.” 

What has changed from when The Avenue was built is the commitment to build affordable housing units, Collum said. “We’re not paying for it. The developer is paying for it. And how they are doing that is with density bonuses that we are providing” and allowing for a height increase for the building. Collum acknowledged that a criticism of that is that it is a “tax giveaway,” but she noted it is “a payment in lieu of taxes” and that there is no transfer of money from the town back to the developer. Rather, she said, it is a way to make the project feasible “given all the other components of the financial agreement. So no taxpayer is subsiding any development. In fact, these redevelopment projects are bringing revenue to the village for us to be able to effectuate our capital budget and reinvest back into the community.”