CALDWELL, NJ — Saturday afternoon, the governing body provided an opportunity for residents of Caldwell and West Caldwell to provide comment and ask questions regarding a pending application submitted by S & S Caldwell Village LLC (S & S), which had been designated as the redeveloper for the project during the March 9 meeting for properties located at 4, 12, 14, and 18 Lane Avenue.

The application is pending council approval and is expected to be on the agenda April 6 and, if passed, then sent to the Planning Board for their review. More than 100 residents took advantage of the opportunity and attended the virtual meeting. 

S & S’s application is consistent with the redevelopment plan approved by the council in December and plans for a total of 114 non-townhouse residential units in total with 98 units to be built at 14 and 18 Lane Avenue. The redevelopment plan allows the borough to rezone or condense the housing tracts so S & S’s proposal includes merging the existing parcels into a singular 2.93-acre site which would allow for a density of 40 non-townhouse units per acre. The plan includes 64 one-bedroom, 31 two-bedroom and three three-bedroom apartments. Twenty percent of the units will be credited to the borough’s COAH obligation. 

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As the participants registered for the Zoom meeting an opportunity for questions to be submitted was included in the process. Mayor John Kelley and Council President Christine Schmidt prepared their opening remarks to be responsive to many of the questions posed during the registration. 

Kelley began his comments by clarifying the goals of the administration. He stated they are: “…to increase our tax base for the obvious reason of keeping taxes for the residents stable and to create an environment which encourages investment into our downtown. And related to that investment, to develop a downtown that attracts new retail and other types of businesses (residential and retail), and which increases customer traffic into our downtown. Upon achieving the above, we would expect that the borough would become an even more desirable place to live. And also, upon achieving the above, we would expect the property values of homes and businesses would rise.”

Addressing concerns regarding traffic and the impact to the school district Kelley stated: “Issues such as traffic and impact on schools have been considered. A professional traffic study has been performed, and we have reviewed the results. Lane is a county road and both Caldwell and West Caldwell have an obligation to engage the county for ways to improve the traffic flow and provide safe pedestrian flow. Sidewalks need to be on both sides of Lane from Westville to Bloomfield Ave.  Further, traffic studies unrelated to the Lane application are being undertaken by the borough to improve the flow of traffic.”

He continued, “Regarding the public schools, the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education hired a company to perform a demographic study by Ross Haber and Associates. The enrollment between ‘14/’15 school year to ‘19/’20 school year grew 1%. This study projects the growth from ‘19/’20 to ‘24/’25 to be 3%. As the study notes: the ‘increase projected is by no means a radical change’. This report is obviously without consideration of any large residential developments at either Caldwell or West Caldwell planning boards.”

Schmidt thanked the residents for their attendance and stated, “We are here today as the culmination of years of inaction and now, those of us sitting here on the virtual dais are faced with difficult decisions. I want to say we are listening. I hope you will listen too.”

She continued, “We have inherited major problems in Caldwell. We have a crumbling infrastructure, a downtown which is far below its potential, a static revenue stream and Affordable Housing mandates. We have been working hard to solve them. Without understanding this, one cannot understand how we have gotten to where we are today.”

Addressing the application for Lane Avenue, Schmidt said, “Initially, I objected to Lane Avenue being part of the plan. However, the fact is that the area would be developed anyway, and the area is not limited to strictly single-family homes. Like it or not, the reality is that the site offers rare large buildable parcels in Caldwell. Early in March, we received the proposed plans for this project. The important thing to understand here is that it is in accordance with our Redevelopment Plan.” 

“I have received and read many emails with legitimate concerns about traffic, stormwater, schools and the environment," Schmidt said. "I hope to hear some creative ideas come out of this meeting. We plan to work with engineers, traffic engineers, and our Planning Board to find answers to difficult problems. I have driven my daughters to James Caldwell High School many days, and I have seen the issues with the light at Bloomfield Avenue and the problems that occur when a mail truck or landscaper stops. We intend to go to the county who owns the road to look for solutions as this corridor will certainly see increased traffic should this project go through.” 

According to traffic engineer, Joseph Steiger it would be expected to have an additional 32 cars per hour during the three-hour morning period and an additional 42 trip per hour during the peak afternoon hours.

Business Administrator Tom Banker confirmed that the community’s affordable housing obligation was 81 units, and it still needs 61 units to meet its obligation. It is anticipated that after the Lane Avenue project is completed (provided it stands as applied for) an additional 20 units will be accounted for.  He confirmed that it is anticipated that the project would bring upon completion, which may take two years, $400-$500k in tax ratables. 

According to current tax records 4 Lane Avenue is taxed at $39,090 annually and lists SSM as the property owner; 14 Lane Avenue’s taxes are $13,149 annually and is owned by Landmark Real Estate Developers Inc.; 12 Lane Avenue’s taxes are $17,979 and is owned by SSM and 18 Lane Avenue pays $13,861 annually in taxes and is owned by Seaman, R & R & Tolli, C & A.

Councilman Jeff Gates noted that according to U.S. Census data 51% of residences in the borough are occupied by renters and 49% dwellings are owner occupied.  As a means of comparison Gates reported that West Caldwell is 86% owner occupied, Fairfield 91%, North Caldwell 99% and Roseland 77% owner occupied.

Councilman Jonathan Lace has requested a fiscal impact statement from the applicant that includes: 1) the projected impact on the proposed redevelopment on the municipal tax base as well as 2) projected costs increases to municipal services and 3) the projected district enrollment.

West Caldwell resident Chris Elko, questioned if the developer would be providing a projected enrollment report and if the council is considering a payment in lieu of tax credit (PILOT) for the developer. It was confirmed a PILOT is not being considered. Elko commented on the need for sidewalks in the area and the potential for additions to the schools to house new students noting that the Lane Avenue project is within the Jefferson Elementary School zone which is already crowded. 

Elko questioned if the developer would be responsible for bearing the cost of new sidewalks, additional crossing guards and if any additions would be required in the school district to accommodate increased enrollment. Elko, a member of the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education (CWBOE) confirmed he was not posing questions as a CWCBOE member but as a private citizen.

Multiple residents questioned the merging of parcels that is permitted by the redevelopment plan and the impact that the newly allowable density would have to traffic and the infrastructure.  Questions were also focused on the process of the redevelopment plan and the designation of the redeveloper.  Kelley confirmed that the council has the authority to revisit the redevelopment plan approved in December and make amendments to their plan.

Lane Avenue residents Sue and Jim Rizzo inquired as to the effect that the installation of sidewalks would have on their property.  The callers wanted a confirmation as to how much of their driveway they were going to lose with new sidewalks, including a buffer zone between the street and the sidewalk.

Kelley responded, “I don’t have an answer for you on that. This is a concept to get sidewalks installed on Lane and the time that we move forward with discussion with the County and West Caldwell, if we go forward with that, then we will certainly learn more in terms of the impact on each and every residence along Lane Avenue.”

Kelley confirmed that the “specifics of sidewalk installations has not even been taken beyond this discussion, but it is logical that for the safety of the students that are walking along Lane presently without sidewalks, that it would be logical way to control the flow.” The callers noted that they will “lose a big part of our driveway for parking capability because of this building going up.  That’s going to affect everyone on Lane Avenue on our side.”

Residents’ concerns focused on the impact to water runoff, potential environmental impacts, storm water drainage, added burden to the sewer system, traffic, vehicular and pedestrian safety, the construction period, property values and the impact to the quality of life for the residents in the immediate area.

Charles Alberta who lives across from the street from the proposed project has voiced numerous concerns regarding the redevelopment project and process and posted an open letter on TAPInto West Essex and Facebook. . 

Alberta requested the council: “to require complete and accurate studies of all traffic, utilities, educational, and infrastructure systems for the impact of these developments in aggregate.” He cautioned the governing body to: “please consider the complete redevelopment zone and another property two lots away at 30 Lane Avenue that may use any decisions here as precedent to add another 40 units into the same infrastructure systems and leading out to the same roadway.”

Alberta noted, “The Borough Council acting as the Redevelopment Entity has the discretion to review each application on its own merit and make decisions in the best interest of the townspeople they represent.  The council has already approved a resolution to amend the Redevelopment plan, so they currently have the opportunity to re-evaluate some of the terms and conditions and modify, as necessary. Some members of the council have noted they previously objected to the Lane Avenue Zone being included in the Redevelopment Plan at all. With the amendment in progress, they can now use their discretion to revisit and right-size the guiding parameters for this zone.”

The next council meeting is Tuesday, April 6.