SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The village plans to put the Marylawn property on the tax rolls for 2015, according to Trustee Mark Rosner.
The board discussed the move at its meeting Monday, Dec. 8. Marylawn of the Oranges Academy, 445 Scotland Road, operated as a private Catholic school for girls and closed in 2013. The property is owned by the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth and includes the school building and the Graves mansion, built in 1900.
Trustee Steven Schnall said the Sisters of Charity may more motivated to sell the property once it is subject to property taxes. “This isn’t for punitive reasons,” he said, “it’s just an added incentive … nobody wants to have a piece of property that continues to deteriorate in front of our eyes.”
According to Trustee Sheena Collum, because the property is no longer being used for a religious school, it loses its tax-exempt status. “It’s not the entity that owns the property, it’s the actual use of the property,” she said.
Seton Hall University made an offer in March on the property contingent on being granted the variances needed to renovate the school to house its graduate medical education program. After meeting several times with the Board of Adjustment, the university withdrew its application in October.
Although the university “has no further comment” on the decision, according to university spokeswoman Laurie Pine, Seton Hall representatives were closely questioned about parking issues in two sessions before the zoning board. The property did not offer parking adequate for the number of students who would have attended classes there, and the university’s proposed solution was to run shuttles from the main campus.
In addition, Seton Hall reported that the house on the property, which has been designated as a historic site by the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission, was in worse condition than originally thought and would be costly to rehabilitate for use as offices and meeting space.
Once it was learned that the property would not be purchased for use by another tax-exempt entity, village officials began looking into collecting property tax on Marylawn, according to village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr.
Village counsel Steven Rother said the assessor could return the property to the tax rolls effective Jan. 1. “The property owner could have the opportunity to challenge the assessment, both the fact of the assessment and the amount of the assessment,” he said. “We don’t think there is much of a risk in this particular circumstance.”
Rosner said the property is zoned for single-family use and could accommodate five to seven homes. However, the Sisters of Charity want to sell the property to a developer for multifamily homes. “They’re marketing for a nonconforming use at this point,” he said.
Rosner, Schnall and Collum were appointed to a committee charged with exploring the options for the Marylawn property. “We’ve invited the residents to participate in (a discussion about) alternative zoning possibilities,” she said, adding that committee members hope to build consensus among the various stakeholders.