WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Township Council held a special workshop on Monday to provide extensive information about the Executive Drive proposed PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) redevelopment project. Mayor Robert Parisi presented a comprehensive PowerPoint slideshow, including a timeline history of the plan since 2017.
Parisi, a proponent of the project, explained that all the developers who submit proposals to the township of West Orange request PILOT programs and will not enter into agreements with the town if West Orange doesn’t provide one.
He reminded the audience that PILOTs exist to encourage investments in places that may not be purchased and/or updated otherwise. Parisi pointed out that most New Jersey projects are PILOTs--including those in Roseland, Verona, Orange, South Orange, Bloomfield and Montclair.
He stated that he doubts anyone will buy 200 Executive Drive, 300 Executive Drive or 10 Rooney Circle because of COVID’s effect on the economy.
Parisi reported that the schools are currently at 70% capacity, so new residents with children will not impact the school system negatively.
Parisi noted that Executive Drive has plenty of space for a 2-acre dog park, and West Orange is considering building an animal shelter there because the current animal control building is small and lacks outdoor space to walk the dog.
He assured, “Everything we do is to attract new families to West Orange. Older people move out to retirement homes, and we need young families moving in.”
The plans for each property are below.
Current library site:
61 Affordable senior citizen housing units
7,500 Square feet community space/library annex
More parking spaces
$1,000,000 from redeveloper
10 Rooney Circle:
Deeded to township at no cost (approximate value of $6-8 million)
Would cost $15 million to build a new library
New library location and potential other public service
100 & 200 Executive Drive:
432 Rental apartments
361 Market rate units
64 Affordable rental units
Parisi mentioned that jitney service will expand to be intra-township with a full daily schedule, so residents who don’t drive and anyone else who wants to can take public transportation in town.
He warned that the library will lose its 3.1-million-dollar grant if the project isn’t approved. Parisi also stated that the Executive Drive buildings are overvalued, so the developers can submit a request for a tax appeal and receive a refund on part of the taxes they’ve paid.
Parisi also pointed out that West Orange’s Main Street redevelopment project, Liberty School, Ridgeway Park, OSPAC and Rock Spring Golf Club were all “bold’ undertakings that enhanced the township and urged listeners to “dare to be bold” about the Executive Drive proposal. “West Orange is getting a lot in return for the project. It’s a community investment.”
Michael Hanley, West Orange financial adviser, concurred with Parisi that “class B office buildings aren’t a growth market.” He deemed the project a “great deal.”
John Gross, West Orange chief financial officer, added that PILOTs enable townships to build more “which results in ongoing extra income.”
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino confirmed that developers request PILOT programs, noting that when she was council president, she received many calls asking for the for PILOTs.
During public comments, several residents conveyed that they were upset because they didn’t see the meeting posted online. Council President Cindy Matute-Brown reported that the meeting had been printed in newspapers and on the township website.
She also explained that the meeting had to be held this week rather than next week due to a March 1 deadline for a library grant which requires approval of the project.
Matute-Brown mentioned that funding the construction of a new library would require a huge bond.
Some residents expressed concern about the PILOT program and requested that the council table the vote on it because only 16 residents attended the meeting and many more will want to watch the video to learn more about the project.
A few residents observed that Essex Green paid for its own renovations without the township’s help and their renovations went well.