WESTFIELD, NJ — Five properties occupied by vacant commercial buildings on the town’s south side near Garwood are one step closer to being turned into apartments and other amenities.

The town council on Tuesday declared the 5.5 acres along South Avenue a “non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment” — a designation under the state’s land use laws that will allow the municipality greater say over court-mandated housing slated for the area, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said.

The developer, Elite Properties of Warren, had requested a redevelopment plan for the property and so under the state’s land use law Westfield is issuing the declaration for the five properties, Gildea told the council. The law requires the designation prior to creating a redevelopment plan.

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“They came to us and asked for a redevelopment plan because they want to enhance their project,” Gildea said. The redevelopment plan, he said, gives Westfield increased say over building designs and amenities at the properties encompassing the now vacant Sevell’s Auto Body. Westfield officials did not publicly discuss potential tax abatements for the developer, something other municipalities have offered when seeking to attract builders to blighted areas in similar situations.

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While the redevelopment plan has yet to be drafted, the municipality’s affordable housing plan — the result of a court settlement approved by the town in 2018 — calls for 156 apartments, approximately 23 of which are required to be affordable units at 421-449 South Avenue East, which is a part of the redevelopment zone.

“The residential development will create rental units and will require a 15% set aside for low and moderate income housing, plus an additional three affordable housing units representing the affordable units that are being transferred to this site,” the town’s affordable housing plan states. It refers to the transfer of required affordable housing units for a town home development on Myrtle Avenue and Grove Street in Westfield.

Tuesday’s declaration, which the council approved 8-0, identifies the following five properties as needing redevelopment:

  • 421-429 South Avenue East
  • 445-449 South Avenue East
  • 418 South Avenue East
  • 338 Windsor Avenue
  • 448 South Avenue East

It is based on an investigation of the properties and subsequent recommendation the planning board approved last month.

Mayor Shelley Brindle was not at Tuesday’s council meeting, accounting for 8-0 vote tally.

Also Tuesday, Town Planner Donald Sammet updated the council on the progress of affordable housing in the municipality, telling members that in August 2018 the courts found Westfield’s housing plan is “fair to low- and moderate-income households.”

That judgment gives the municipality immunity from “builder’s remedy” lawsuits in which developers sue municipalities seeking to have courts require rezoning to allow for affordable housing, Sammet said at the court-mandated briefing.

“We have a plan that, I think, is very well-thought-out,” he said. “It’s focused on transit-oriented development and provides for development in places … where we can be true to what our identity is while at the same time meeting our affordable housing obligations.”

Westfield is Union County’s wealthiest municipality with a median household income of $168,721, US Census Bureau figures show. The countywide median household income is $77,095, according to the Census Bureau. The plan shows a requirement for zoning across the Westfield that creates the opportunity for 100 affordable housing units.

On Tuesday, Sammet discussed a court requirement that Westfield work with nonprofit housing agencies to build an additional 20 homes that are affordable to people with low and moderate incomes. The planner said he hosted the town’s first meeting with the nonprofits last year.

“I had eight different development groups come in to meet with us,” Sammet said. “I discussed with them what our housing plan is what potential opportunities there might be and what funds there are available.”

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Afterward, Sammet said the 20 residences may be rentals or houses as long as they can accommodate families and are built by 2025.

A recent Union County Community Needs Assessment cited housing as “the most frequently and consistently identified issue.”

“Affordable housing, low income housing and shelter care are needs articulated across age groups and family sizes, including those with special needs, such as persons living with disabilities or those who are aging in their communities,” a summary of the assessment states.

People seeking affordable housing in Westfield, Sammet said, may apply at www.affordablehomesnewjersey.com. The website shows three sites providing affordable units in Westfield, including five apartments at The Parker, 339 West Broad St. and nine apartments at 333 Central Ave. The third location, Westfield Senior Housing, is limited to people age 62 and up and is providing 131 apartments.

In related news, the council approved hiring the redevelopment planning firm Topology NJ LLC of Newark. The one-year contract allows payment to the firm of up to $50,000 for its services, according to the resolution.

“We have a lot of redevelopment things happening, and things that will be happening, so we want to have somebody on call,” Gildea said.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh