WEST ORANGE, NJ — With the Essex Green shopping center and the adjoining office buildings on Executive Drive showing signs of aging, professional planner Paul Grygiel prepared a report for the Township of West Orange, calling for area to be declared an “area in need of redevelopment.”

Residents who opposed the findings in this report, which was recently presented to the West Orange Planning Board, spoke out against it at the West Orange Township Council meeting on Tuesday.

Although the five residents who spoke on this issue admitted that Essex Green did need upgrading, they were not in favor of declaring an “area in need of redevelopment,” which if approved by the planning board and township council would make it eligible for tax abatements and other incentives that could cost the township money.

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“I’m all for modernizing Essex Green, but not with the help of the West Orange taxpayers,” said resident Sally Malanga. “For it to be declared an area in need of redevelopment, the facilities have to be in disrepair and you can’t find tenants. This is not the case with Essex Green…In my opinion, the redevelopment plan is not legal.”

Together, the mall and office building area sit on 65 acres of land in the heart of West Orange. Clarion Partners purchased Essex Green for $97 million in March of 2016. According to the report, it has 403,00 square feet of office space, which now has a 58-percent vacancy rate, and 330,000 square feet in the shopping center, which now has a 33-percent vacancy rate. The report called Essex Green “outmoded.”

At its Sept. 19 meeting, the council passed a resolution authorizing the retention of Phillips Preiss Grygiel, LLC to prepare a report to examine whether the designated area would be eligible for redevelopment funding from the state.  

Resident Kevin Malanga said that Grysiel has called Essex Green blighted, which he feels is not the case.

“Clarion Partners bought the property for $97 million,” he said. “It was sold for $41 million in the 1990s. Essex Green is an appreciating asset. Blighted properties don’t appreciate…Essex Green should be improved, but not through tax abatements.”

In addressing his concern, councilwoman Susan McCartney said that the report never used the word “blighted” to describe Essex Green. She added that the resolution passed by the council at its Sept. 19 meeting directed the planning board to investigate whether the designated area constitutes an area in need of redevelopment consistent with the Municipal Land Use Law. McCartney said this resolution did not deal with funding issues.

“We (the council members) want to be at the table for the redevelopment discussion,” she said. “With the Bayonne Bridge renovation allowing larger trucks to cross it, there is now a high demand for warehouse space in our area. I would prefer not to see warehouses in Essex Green, which would bring large truck traffic to our town.”  

“We already have a place at the table at the planning board,” said Council President Joe Krakoviak. “The Administration should tell the developer that no incentives will be offered. If we give them a tax abatement, all we’re doing is given them money to increase their profits.”

Krakoviak urged people to attend the next planning board meeting on Dec. 6 to make their voices heard on this issue.