WOPL redevelopment plan OK’ed

Town Council votes 4-1 to approve plan, make Alpert the site’s redeveloper

WEST ORANGE, NJ — At its July 16 meeting, the West Orange Township Council approved an ordinance on second reading that adopts a redevelopment plan for the West Orange Public Library, in addition to approving a resolution appointing Joe Alpert, of the Alpert Group, the redeveloper of the library site. Both the resolution and the ordinance passed with a vote of 4-1, with Councilman Joe Krakoviak casting the only opposing vote. With the redevelopment plan, the township is planning to move the library from its current location at 46 Mt. Pleasant Ave. to a new building within the Executive Drive redevelopment area. The current library will be turned into senior housing.

The proposed senior housing facility will be up to six stories high, with 65 units. According to Alpert, there will be green roof space, a medical office, an exercise room and 7,500 square feet of community space. The community space could also include a “satellite library,” which would act as a branch of the main library, so library patrons do not feel displaced.

Alpert’s company will hold a 99-year lease on the current library property, and the township will receive a lump sum of $1 million and $38,000 a year in PILOT payments. Alpert said at the meeting that when he applies for a mortgage on the property and is able to win low-income tax credits, the town would be given 6.28 percent of every penny taken in. The town will have four years, beginning in December, to find a new location for the library once the project begins.

Mayor Robert Parisi said at the meeting that the township chose Alpert for the project — rather than using a competitive bidding process — because his business has been successful in town before. Alpert is currently redeveloping the Central Avenue housing project, located in both West Orange and Orange.

“For more than a decade now, they’ve owned the property on Central Avenue and through sheer determination, patience and diligence, they have redeveloped properties that have literally been vacant and abandoned as long as I can remember,” Parisi said at the meeting. “We came to the decision that we would want to do this project with Joe Alpert. Not only does he have the expertise and the financial viability to do this project, he’s got the expertise to navigate the tax break system and our personal experience with him is he does what he says he’s going to do. He does it well, he does it professionally and what he’s built for this community already is a wonderful addition to this town.”

Alpert outlined his plans for the building; of the 65 planned units, 61 will be 685-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments and four will be 974-square-foot, two-bedroom apartments. Krakoviak supported adding more stories to the proposed project to accommodate more affordable housing for seniors and bring additional revenue to the township, but both Parisi and Alpert said making the building taller would require steel construction rather than wood construction, which would drive up costs. Alpert wants to keep costs as low as he can in order to remain competitive with other senior housing facilities.

Alpert also committed to hiring a senior independent-living coordinator.

“We’re going to be putting a person in there to help the seniors acclimate themselves to the apartment building and to the municipality 20 hours a week,” he said.

In addition to the coordinator, Alpert described a shuttle service that will be available at least once a week to take residents to shopping centers and other destinations.

“A lot of seniors don’t have cars because there’s a car, car insurance and parking. That’s why the parking requirements for senior housing, especially senior affordable housing are much lower,” he said. “The other synergy there is, if the library does wind up at Essex Green, that could be part of the shuttle service.”

After the resolution was approved, Parisi discussed the new possible location of the library at Executive Drive; the township does not own Executive Drive, but can create public use through PILOTs. He mentioned the possibility of a dog park and new residential developments, and addressed questions from the public about the library and animal shelter sharing a building.

“We saw this not only as an opportunity to get 10 Rooney Circle to potentially move the library; we also saw land here,” Parisi said. “This gave us an opportunity to look at the ability to do things we always wanted to do but didn’t have land.”

The animal shelter, which must be moved from Main Street when the second phase of the Edison redevelopment project begins, would be on the first floor of 10 Rooney Circle in the proposed plan. The library would be on the second floor, but Parisi said they will not share an entrance.

“The first floor is not the full 25,000-square-feet footprint; it’s a little smaller,” he said. “For the animal shelter, we’re looking for 1,500 or 2,000 square feet. There’s been some concern about, ‘Are we going to have dogs running through the library?’ No, of course not. The way the building is and the topography is, the library will appear to be on the ground level, but it’s actually the second level. As you go back, there’s a lower level, which is technically the first floor. We think that’s where the animal shelter can be. People are not going to be walking through the same front door to go to the library and to adopt dogs and cats.”

Parisi added that the site would solve the problem of having to move the animal shelter while at the same time giving it more space and room for improvement, both for the animals and the employees and volunteers who work there.

Krakoviak explained why he voted against the measures, saying that he doesn’t doubt Alpert and his company will be successful.

“I’m very confident that he and his people are going to do a great job; they’ve done it in the past and they’re going to do a great job here,” he said at the meeting. “I’m just opposing because I think we need to keep the library where it is. I think it’s a better location and to make the improvements that are needed, I think we should solicit competitive proposals for both redevelopment areas so that we know what’s possible.”