Hilltop Townhomes Approved by Cedar Grove Council

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo speaks to the Cedar Grove Town Council at the Hilltop Public Hearing. Credits: Jeanne Moreno
Essex County Executive Joe Divincenzo speaks to the crowd of more than 100 people at the HIlltop Public Hearing Monday. Credits: Cheryl Brown
Deput Mayor Joe Chiusolo speaks at the Hilltop Public Hearing on Monday. Credits: Cheryl Brown
Councilmen John Zunic and Peter Tanella listen to the public at the Hilltop Hearing on Monday. Credits: Cheryl Brown
A crowd of more than 100 residents gathered for the Hilltop Public Hearing Monday. Credits: Cheryl Brown

CEDAR GROVE, NJ – After 20 years of negotiations, the Cedar Grove Town Council approved an ordinance at its meeting Monday, allowing K. Hovanian to move forward in building 460 townhomes on the property off Fairview Avenue. 

“This issue is the most important issue I’ve seen in my 18 years of serving on the council,” Deputy Mayor Joe Chiusolo told the crowd of more than 100 residents. “It is an issue that has paralyzed much of our community. We’ve kicked the can to June 1, but now we have a decision we have to make.”

According to Township Manager Tom Tucci, the plan provides the following:

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  • 460 townhomes versus the 1,000 that had been originally proposed
  • 77 acres of open space to be made into a county park
  • Demolition of the old hospital buildings on the property
  • K. Hovanian pays $1 million redevelopment fee to Cedar Grove
  • K. Hovanian builds a new two-bay firehouse in South End, including the demo of the existing firehouse and the building next to it.
  • K. Hovanian builds a new baseball field
  • 90 units will be offered as affordable housing.

In addition, the agreement provides for a PILOT plan, or payment in lieu of taxes, under which Cedar Grove would collect 95 percent of land improvement taxes and the county would get 5 percent. “We would earmark a specific percentage to be given each year to the schools,” Chiusolo said. “In order to guarantee that would continue even if we are not here, we would pass a resolution that will be consistent with the length of time of the PILOT to insure the schools had what’s needed.”

According the Chiusolo, K. Hovanian will build 97 traditional townhomes, 93 first-floor master townhomes, 180 stacked townhomes and 90 townhomes designated as affordable housing. In addition, the development will have a club house, parking and its own open space. Tucci said it is expected to bring approximately 1,000 new residents and more than 100 school-aged children.

Board of Education president Joe Cicala commended the council on its work in negotiating for the town, but suggested it was critical for the council and Board of Education to meet and develop a plan to address the impact of the new students on the district.  “How are we going to house the students coming into the district,” he asked.  “PILOT is great and we’ll take it, but PILOT is not going to help us build a new facility or renovate a new facility.” 

“A town that can’t educate their kids is not going to be a town that people want to move into,” he added.  “We need to have a plan.”

As to the 77 acres of open space, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo had previously promised Cedar Grove a 90-acre park.  He acknowledged that 90-acres wouldn’t happen, but he was committed to building a 77-acre park in the township.  “I will build a county park in Cedar Grove and it will be the fourth largest park in Essex County,” he said.  “We’re all in this together and have been working on this for 18 years.” 

Many residents addressed the council all expressing thier wish that the Hilltop Redevelopment and K. Hovanian would "just go away".  Councilman John Zunic said he’d prefer that too, but the council had to make a decision.  “Someone said that it’s better to deal with the devil you know, and it’s true,” Zunic said.  “You’ve got to make the best of a bad situation and you have to control your own destiny.”

If Cedar Grove did not approve the redevelopment plan, it would be subject to lawsuits which put its fate in the hands of a judge.  The approval of the plan gives the township some control, he said.

“It’s the best case of a worst case situation.  You have to control your situation,” Councilman Peter Tanella said.  “I’m not going to gamble like that.  It would be irresponsible.” 

The ordiinance passed with four affirmative votes.  Councilman Robert O’Toole abstained, noting he had been unable to attend many of the planning meetings due to injury.

According to Township Attorney Thomas Scrivo, K. Hovanian will now go before the planning board for site plan approval.  He estimated it would be at least a year before any construction was started.

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