Clarion will not seek PILOT for project

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Robert Parisi announced that the owners of the Essex Green shopping center would not be seeking a payment in lieu of taxes in a press release on Aug. 29, after the property was designated as an “area in need of redevelopment” by the West Orange Township Council on Jan. 9. The property is owned by Clarion Partners, who bought it in March 2016 for $97 million, and consists of 403,000 square feet of office space and 330,000 square feet of retail space.

“Because of our seat at the table and our numerous meetings and discussions over the last two years, I am pleased to report that ownership plans to make a major investment in our community, and no payment in lieu of taxes will be sought by the Essex Green Shopping Center,” Parisi said in the release.

According to the release, the owners will meet with the Eagle Ridge Condominium Association and seek approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to add 45,000 additional square feet of retail space to the center. They will also not ask for approval for a residential component.

At a public meeting about the redevelopment project in April, questions were asked about whether Clarion Partners would receive a PILOT for the project. At the time, Parisi said it was too early to discuss the topic.

“There’s been no plan for a PILOT,” he said at the meeting. “It’s early to talk about that. I know it’s a legitimate concern for a lot of people, but it hasn’t been discussed yet.”

Many residents have been outspoken in their opposition of the redevelopment project, saying that a PILOT would raise taxes in West Orange. According to Susan Anderson, the West Orange public information officer, in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on Aug. 30, the project could change the tax value of the property.

“If the Zoning Board of Adjustment approves the proposed expansion, upon the construction and issuance of a certificate of occupancy there will likely be an added assessment,” Anderson said. “If an added assessment is appropriate, the property owner will have a greater tax ratable, which will increase the taxable assessment. Clarion’s proposed improvements reflect a renewed commitment to the township without any tax burden on the township.”

Anderson said Clarion had made the decision not to pursue a PILOT.

“After numerous discussions, Clarion agreed with the mayor and administration to go forward with no consideration of a PILOT,” she said. “It was a decision by Clarion after various discussions with the mayor and administration.”

Clarion did not return multiple requests for comment.

West Orange has been considering Essex Green while looking for a new location for the Department of Public Works, and as of now Anderson said a decision about moving the department will wait until a redevelopment plan has been drafted. A plan for the Executive Drive portion of the property was approved by the West Orange Township Council at its Sept. 4 meeting; Anderson said the rest of the plan will be presented to the Planning Board and council later this year or in early 2019.

“Redevelopment worked. The township has a seat at the table and was able to obtain significant investment in the center with no tax abatements,” Parisi said in the release. “West Orange will continue to balance the business community’s goals with the critical quality of life for all of West Orange residents.”