SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees approved on first reading the Vose + Taylor Redevelopment Plan at its Dec. 9 meeting, then added revisions to the plan on Dec. 30 in a special meeting. According to the village website, the revisions were meant to be included in the introduction draft, but, due to versioning issues, were not. The ordinance passed with a vote of 5-0; Trustee Bob Zuckerman abstained.
Village Administrator Adam Loehner said at the Dec. 9 meeting that the project, which is located at the former site of a Blockbuster store, will have 110 residential units. The “Blockbuster site” sits at the corner of Taylor Place and Vose Avenue, with a smaller piece along South Orange Avenue, which runs parallel to Taylor Place. There will be retail space on the lower floor on South Orange Avenue, Taylor Place and Vose Avenue.
“This is also including a second-floor office and select retail space,” Loehner said. “There are certain retails we do allow on the second floor.”
The parking lot in the back of the building is being purchased from the village for $1.3 million, but the developer is required to give back the parking that will be lost. There will be 10 spaces for businesses, five double parking spaces for offices and more parking on Scotland Road.
Village President Sheena Collum discussed at the meeting why the village is using redevelopment to rebuild the downtown area.
“It was a large building with no exchange of financials for the land we were contributing,” she said. “It also did not have the amenities that we worked on with our community, including our development committee and getting feedback from the South Orange Village Center Alliance and retailers.”
Collum said that, in keeping consistent with the rest of the buildings downtown, the project will be between 48 and 52 feet tall. She also explained the Payment in Lieu of Taxes that the developer of the project will be getting.
“A lot of residents say, ‘You’re giving them a tax giveaway, it’s money back to the developer,’” Collum said. “But it is a negotiation on a project’s feasibility, making a project work given all the other components of the agreement. No taxpayer is subsidizing any development. These redevelopment projects are bringing revenue to the village for us to affect our capital budget and invest back into the community.”
Collum said the PILOT is starting at $325,000, which is 10 percent of the gross revenue. It will then escalate to 12.5 percent by the end of the 25-year period. Rather than 30 years, Collum said the PILOT will be for 25 years, because South Orange is getting community incentives.
“We moved to the developer building out space for us that I would label as incubator space and co-retailer space,” she said. “We will have 2,000 square feet of prime retail space in this development.”
The space will be used as a “permanent pop-up shop” for artists and small retailers who would otherwise not be able to afford the rent of their own storefront.
“It’s a way to bring in 30, 40, 50 makers who otherwise would not be able to afford this rent on their own and be a part of a collaboration that benefits, first, creating that retail anchor destination, and second, creating an incubator space for people to test out our community,” Collum said. “It’s just a great partnership, which is something the village has never done before and, quite frankly, I’ve never seen in a redevelopment project anywhere else.”
Trustees were all in support of the plan, which will go to the Planning Board to make sure it’s consistent with the village’s master plan before going back to the BOT for final adoption. The Planning Board will then hear testimony about the site plan.
Zuckerman abstained because he is a co-owner of Pet Wants, a store that rents space within 500 feet of the redevelopment site. He said in an email to the News-Record on Jan. 2 that though he doesn’t own property within 500 feet of the project, which would have required his abstention, he refrained from voting in order to ensure there was no perception of a conflict of interest.
At the meeting, though, Zuckerman expressed his support for the project.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve finally gotten to this point where we can hopefully agree on a plan to redevelop those properties,” he said. “This is the heart of our downtown, this is the cornerstone. To have that empty storefront is not a good look for us and this is going to change that.”