Mayor and Council Members: Agnew Redevelopment
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
By: Jennifer Ersalesi
Recently, in response to inquiries that had been made by community members, This is Rutherford requested statements from the Mayor and Council Members regarding their positions on the Agnew Redevelopment Project. The following Councilman, Mark Goldsack and Tom Mullahey, and the Mayor responded to the email by the deadline we provided.
Councilman Mark Goldsack issued this statement:
I want to thank “This Is Rutherford” for affording the Mayor and Council the opportunity to explain our positions as it pertains to this potential project and to also address some commonly held misconceptions about redevelopment in general.
First, as many residents know, the Agnew Place area of Rutherford has a lengthy procedural history dating back to 2007 when it was highlighted as a potential location for redevelopment in the Master Plan, and reaffirmed in 2018. In 2016, after a public hearing and formal recommendation by the Planning Board, the Mayor and Council voted unanimously to designate the Agnew Place area as an area in need of redevelopment with condemnation. Three years later, in April 2019, the Mayor and Council voted to approve a redevelopment plan for the Agnew Place area which allowed for a building up to six (6) stories and one hundred and forty (140) units. Now, more than a year later, we are discussing whether or not to increase the amount allowable to eight (8) stories and one hundred and eighty-five (185) units.
I’ve often heard the Agnew redevelopment as being “fast-tracked.” I do not believe that any project that has been in discussion for 13 years as being on the “fast-track” to anything.
Some like to point out that at a Council meeting back in October of 2019 I personally made it a point to say that this was not a “done deal,” which some believed was a lie and flew in the face of what was actually happening. Here we are almost a year later still discussing the redevelopment plan itself.
We must all remember that the approval of a redevelopment plan is just another step in the process. The plan simply allows something to be built up to a certain point, but it also allows us to begin our next step in negotiations, a step that allows us to bring all of your and our concerns to the forefront, a step that allows us to ask, what’s in it for us?
Once the redevelopment plan is finalized, the next steps in the process include negotiating a redeveloper’s agreement, financial agreement, and approving a site plan. I do not consider a deal to be done until all contracts are signed, a site plan is approved, and a shovel is in the ground.
Second, some say the Borough has not been transparent about this potential plan. I’d like to point out that this potential plan was discussed, in public, several times by both the Planning Board and Mayor and Council. The agendas for both are always available online and at Borough Hall and you can sign up on the Borough website to have them sent directly to your inbox. I commend members of the public who make it a point to look at our agendas, come to our meetings and ask us questions. Beyond our agendas being available online, a Redevelopment Town Hall was held in March where members of the public were able to come and ask questions of some of our professionals regarding the process of redevelopment. Additionally, a member of the potential redeveloper’s team came to a Council meeting and gave a presentation on the redevelopment and then took questions from the public. To say the process is not transparent is to ignore all of these facts.
Next, I’d like to address some of the redevelopment questions residents have asked me regarding PILOTs, impact on schools, municipal services, traffic, and parking.
Under a PILOT (which stands for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes), the redevelopment entity, simply put, pays a portion of their annual gross revenues, with a minimum of 10%, which is set by State law. Under this type of financial agreement, which would still have to be negotiated, the Borough keeps 95% of the PILOT with 5% going to the County, which would mean significantly more revenue for the Borough. A PILOT is NOT a tax abatement.
The next logical question is “What about the schools?” Studies have shown that these types of redevelopment projects have minimal impact on schools. For example, the Parker, which was recently built, has one child living in it, not of school age. However, and I cannot speak for my colleagues, I am more than willing to enter into negotiations with the Board of Education to secure a financial agreement giving them a portion of PILOT proceeds if and when a child living in the potential redevelopment begins to make use of our school system.
Additionally, beyond the financial benefit to the Borough, a redeveloper requesting a PILOT gives the Borough more room to negotiate additional items of benefit to the community.
I cannot stress the importance of this enough: A redeveloper asking the Borough for a PILOT allows the two parties to enter negotiations regarding how the redeveloper may contribute to needed improvements within the community, whether it be improvements to infrastructure, streetscape, or something else.
Another frequently asked question I have received is whether this redevelopment will be a drain on municipal services. Residents have expressed concerns that our fire department is not equipped to properly handle an emergency situation in a building of this size. Keep in mind that the Borough budgets for capital improvements/purchases every year. These capital investments include new equipment for our fire department that they deem necessary to execute their jobs in a safe and efficient manner. This can apply to our Police and EMT’s as well. Our department of public works would be tasked with doing nothing more than plowing snow and cleaning the streets as they are required to currently do. Garbage pick-up for these types of buildings would be contracted out to a private hauler as is standard practice.
Lastly, I’m often asked whether I think this development would cause traffic and further parking issues. When thinking of this we must keep in mind where this potential project is located, right across from the train station. The people who would live here are those that are likely to use the train at rush hour. Additionally, the plan as currently drafted requires on-site parking of more than one space per unit. The developer requested an amendment that would have allowed them to satisfy their parking requirements off-site, but that amendment has been rejected.
Perhaps the most frequently asked question I receive is “Why are you okay with this redevelopment?”
Beyond the revenue potential for the Borough, I envision this project as being a boost to our local economy. Imagine a brand-new group of residents being able to explore all that Rutherford has to offer, whether it be our shops, restaurants, or professional services. Then imagine that same group of residents, having fallen in love with Rutherford, ready to start the process of purchasing a new home in our great community. I have this dream because I am a product of that same dream. I came to Rutherford and rented an apartment with my now wife because of its proximity to the train station and attractive downtown environment. Now, here I am, ten years later, a homeowner with one child in the school system and another one year away from entering kindergarten. This was my Rutherford dream, and I’m sure it was the dream of so many of you reading this today.
I imagine that when the garden apartments were built on Union and Park Avenue, when One Orient Way was built, that the Mayor and Council during those times heard many of the same concerns. Yet, despite those concerns, they moved forward, they knew it was the best thing for Rutherford at that time. I believe that this is the best thing for Rutherford right now and in the future.
Lastly, we can disagree on the merits of a particular project or initiative, but that does not make one side wrong and the other right. Disagreement on issues is how government is supposed to work - it’s how progress is made. We must also be mindful of how we treat each other in disagreement, to disagree because of concerns over schools, traffic, etc. is one thing, but to lay baseless claims of corruption or foul play at the feet of one side to advance a particular narrative accomplishes nothing.
The Mayor and Council are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, our decisions do not only impact you, but they also impact all of US, they impact OUR children, they impact OUR future. Rutherford may have a population of almost twenty thousand residents, but our community is what creates a small-town feel.
We see each other on Park Avenue, our children play together, we coach teams together, we gather at town events together. Let Rutherford be an example of how civil discourse in government is supposed to work, not an emulation of the current state of our national politics. Rutherford is better than that.
Councilman Tom Mullahey issued this statement:
Rutherford has so much to offer and has long been referred to as a “hidden gem.” But to better support our businesses and offset the tax burden from taxpayers, we can’t keep hiding our beautiful town. I believe it’s time to invite well thought out redevelopment into areas that are currently not maximizing Rutherford’s capabilities.
I think the Agnew area desperately needs a facelift. The first thing people see when they come off the train is aging buildings. We have an opportunity to bring the area up to the 21st century and the opportunity to welcome new people to contribute to our local economy.
I know many are worried about the impact on schools. The recently built Parker building currently has zero students in the Rutherford School system and One Orient Way houses one child in the school district. As a parent, if I felt there was a possibility that this type of development would unduly burden our schools, I would not be in support of it.
Logically, these types of residences appeal to childless people who are just starting out or looking to downgrade in a safe, clean, and convenient town. I believe that redeveloping the Agnew area would help usher Rutherford into the 21st century while maintaining the uniqueness of the community.
Mayor Frank Nunziato explained his point of view regarding redevelopment in the most recently published Borough Newsletter (9/10/2020). Here is the link to the Borough newsletter.
This is a link to the section regarding the details for Redevelopment in Rutherford on the Borough website.