WEST ORANGE, NJ – A resolution to designate Joe Alpert of Alpert Group as the redeveloper of the West Orange Public Library (WOPL) area—which includes a $13 million project to turn the current WOPL at 46 Mt. Pleasant Avenue into a senior housing facility and then to potentially move the library to an location situated in the Executive Drive redevelopment zone behind the Essex Green Mall—was adopted by a 4-1 voted during Tuesday’s township council meeting.
According to the resolution as written, the proposed senior housing facility will be six stories high, which is three stories shorter than neighboring Renna House, and will consist of 65 units. In addition to amenities such as a green roof space, a medical wing for checkups, an exercise room and a Senior Independent Living Coordinator for residents 62 years and older, there will also be approximately 7,500 square feet of “community space” that could include a satellite library so that current library patrons do not feel displaced.
Although his administration initially considered putting senior housing at 10 Rooney Circle, Mayor Robert Parisi explained that the township’s assessment ultimately determined that the location would ultimately make for “a wonderful library.” He also added that turning an office building into senior housing “is a lot more of a challenge [because] it never would have looked like senior housing.”
Instead, Parisi said his administration decided that the Municipal Complex—which includes Town Hall, the Police Station and the Renna House (including the nurses’ station in the basement)—would be a better location to meet a practical need for seniors looking for affordable senior housing.
In response to Councilman Joe Krakoviak’s inquiry about whether it would make more sense to build a facility of six-to-eight stories in order to house more seniors and also bring in additional revenue to the township, Parisi said there were several constraints that were important to consider.
“We’re not only restricted by the footprint of the property to accommodate parking,” said Parisi. “Developers will tell you that when you go higher than four stories, you’re now into steel construction, not wood construction, and that significantly drives up costs.”
Alpert added that his firm assessed all imaginable options for the senior housing facility and concluded that the current proposed plan would help keep costs low in order to remain completive with other senior housing projects.
Alpert continued that the proposed building is unique because the majority of the structure will be for residential use—composed of 61 one-bedroom, 685-square-foot units and four two-bedroom, 974-square-foot units.
Alpert also said that approximately 7,500 square feet of community space—which will be open for public use for 99 years—will come from the newer half of the current library, which is 10,000 square feet. The other amenities, such as spaces for management, medical needs and an exercise room, will take up approximately 2,000 square feet, he said.
Alpert explained that the proposed plan is advantageous for the township because once he is able to apply for a mortgage—and able to win low income tax credits to help pay for the $13 million building—a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program will be set at 6.28 percent.
The mayor explained that a PILOT program “can be used to incentivize investment or used for public purposes.” According to Alpert, this means that Alpert Group would “give the town 6.28 percent” of every penny taken in via certified audit.
Once the library project begins, the township will have a four-year window beginning in December 2019 to find a new location for the library.
Alpert explained that if he is unsuccessful in securing the tax credits, the project will not move forward until he can reapply the following year.
“The idea of a new library is not new,” said Parisi, who explained that the conversation about moving the library to a new location has been ongoing since the 1960s.
If all goes well, then plans will be made to move the library to 10 Rooney Circle simply because the opportunity has presented itself, Parisi said.
“If we all agree that we would love a bigger library; we would love a modern library; we would love outdoor spaces for kids programs; we would love more parking, then we all have to agree that the current location isn’t getting it done,” said Parisi.
He continued that he does not believe that 10 Rooney Circle “is the absolute perfect location for a new library,” but he is also uncertain about getting the “majority of residents in this community to agree on what the perfect location would be.”
“Bringing it to the center of town—near a mall that itself has already been approved by the planning board and will undergo renovations in upcoming years as part of a new development project with residential components [including] a dog park—we think it’s a lot to digest,” said Parisi. “But [it’s] an exciting opportunity that can better serve the community today and in the future."
In response to members of the community who were concerned about reports about the library sharing the same space with the animal shelter, the mayor clarified that although a first-floor animal shelter is expected to be part of the project, there would be no animals running through the library. He added that there is a separate entrance for the second floor, where the new library could be situated.
In other redevelopment news, the council also approved, 4-1, Jonathan Schwartz of D & E Associates Real Estate Group as a conditional redeveloper of 100 and 200 Executive Drive. Both located are to be leveled before being turned into residential spaces, complete with 425 units and an accompanying dog park that will take up two acres of land.
The Township of West Orange also owns 300 Executive Drive, which will be maintained as office space.
“This is an opportunity to do things that we’ve always wanted to do, but we didn’t have land,” said Parisi.
Alpert Group and D&E Associates have worked on several projects in West Orange, including the Valley Rd Apartments, Vizcaya and the Oscar Shindler Performing Arts Center (OSPAC), the last of which was donated to the township by D&E Associates. The two firms have remained close collaborators with the township for more than 10 and 30 years, respectively.