Council approves Executive Drive plan on first reading

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
The West Orange Township Council approved the redevelopment plan for the Executive Drive portion of the Essex Green redevelopment plan on first reading, and will vote on second reading at the Sept. 4 meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Township Council unanimously approved an ordinance on first reading that adopted a redevelopment plan for the Executive Drive portion of the Essex Green property at its Aug. 7 meeting, and will see a presentation on the plan and vote to adopt the ordinance at its Sept. 4 meeting. The redevelopment plan is only part of the overall plan, and does not include a blueprint for the shopping center part of the property.

Several members of the public at the meeting opposed the ordinance, including members of SEIU Local 32BJ, the union that represents the maintenance workers who work at Essex Green and Executive Drive.

“I’m here tonight to stress the importance of being a responsible business owner and preserving the high standard we’ve set for our janitors,” Catherine Jimenez, a representative from the union, said at the meeting. Jimenez said that the owners of the office park, Clarion Partners, hired a union contractor that cut maintenance workers’ wages from $14 an hour to $9 an hour and eliminated benefits.

“Our members have persevered for over a year now, struggling to pay their bills and support their families, and are doing so without sorely needed health insurance,” Jimenez said. “These hardworking families don’t deserve to lose decent wages and meaningful benefits. We should not be approving a redevelopment plan for a developer who hires irresponsible contractors.”

Councilman Victor Cirilo said that the council will do what it can to support the members of SEIU Local 32BJ.

“We’ll do what we can to use any authority that the township may have in this process,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to make sure fair wages are being extended to our hardworking families. We have to make sure the township is extending out to our working families.”

Resident Clare Silvestri asked why the Executive Drive building is part of the redevelopment plan.

“This proposal, to the layman’s eye, appears to be a renovation of an existing officer building, improving the exterior, remodeling the interior, adding an outdoor patio and upgrading the mechanical systems,” Silvestri said at the meeting. “There are no changes in the building’s use of footprint, and I didn’t see any request for zoning changes.”

Silvestri’s questions were not directly answered, but Council President Susan McCartney said that they would be addressed at the September meeting.

“On the Planning Board we were surprised to see only one portion and not a bigger plan, but as you see in the plan they have consolidated all of the offices and the remaining office spaces into that one building,” McCartney said at the meeting. “This is part of a much larger plan, and Susan Graul, the planner who drafted the plan, will be at our second reading in September.”