WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Planning Board held a special meeting on Nov. 19 to allow residents to comment on whether the township should allow the owners a $1 million, 30-year tax abatement for the redevelopment of 100 and 200 Executive Drive and 10 Rooney Circle. 

The original plan was to convert 100 and 200 Executive Drive into a large apartment building, while 10 Rooney Circle would become a new library and animal shelter. In addition, a dog park was to be created on two acres of the property. A Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) arrangement was to be set up for 30 years.

A week and a half after the appellate court voted against the first plan, the Planning Board reduced the redevelopment area by not including 300 Executive Drive and to commission a survey to determine if the area qualifies as a Non Condemnation Area in Need of Redevelopment. The board hired Heyer Gruel and Associates to do the survey.

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The owners of the property cite a high vacancy rate and outdated buildings as reasons why the property qualifies. An important criterion of qualifying for redevelopment is if the property is actually a “blight” in the town.

Several residents complained that they weren’t permitted to comment during the meeting the night before.

Resident Micaela Bennett questioned whether the vacancies are legitimate. Michael Kalmus reported that he had gone to Executive Drive looking for office space and was told they weren’t leasing to new tenants. 

H. William Rutherford felt that the owners decided not to maintain or rent their units. Rutherford pointed out that no permits had been pulled since the owners purchased the property in 2017. He asked, “Why should we bail them out when they haven’t done anything on their own?”

Township Council member Joe Krakoviak said that he would not give his opinion because of his position on the council, but wanted to say that the owners purchased distressed assets and made minimal improvements. 

Rosary Morelli stated that she felt the condition of neglect and vacancy are the owners’ fault. Granting them “tax abatements is not good for tax payers. It’s not an area that is in need of redevelopment.”

Sally Malanga mentioned that the owners are seasoned landlords who were aware of the condition of the buildings when they purchased it. “Redevelopment is meant to benefit the public,” Malanga said.

Malanga doesn’t think the township should give the owners a huge tax break because they requested redevelopment soon after they purchased the property, and “redevelopment is meant for real blight.”

Joyce Rudin noted that it was expensive to hire Planner Susan Gruel and Real Estate Attorney Isabel Chou. She also felt that the township shouldn’t be fixing “millionaire developers’ self-imposed hardships.”  

Brent Scott also opposed the designation of redevelopment. “West Orange needs to collect taxes, not pay for tax abatements.”

Many residents argued against the redevelopment, but the Planning Board voted to move forward with it.