Council votes 4-1 for PILOT for Executive Drive redeveloper

Councilman Bill Rutherford cast the only opposing vote to a PILOT agreement with the developers of Executive Drive at a meeting on Feb. 23.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council voted to move forward with a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreement for the redevelopment plan at Executive Drive, moving another step closer to building a new library at 10 Rooney Circle to replace the current one on Mount Pleasant Avenue. The ordinance to include a PILOT in the plan, which was introduced on first reading, passed with a vote of 4-1; Councilman Bill Rutherford cast the sole dissenting vote.

“I am certain this project would not be built without a PILOT,” Rutherford said at the meeting. “You have spoken to the developers and they have said that; they put it in their documents, and I believe them. They would not build this project without a PILOT. That does not mean no project would get built there without a PILOT.”

In addition to moving the library, the project also reserves space in the building for the animal shelter and places a potential dog park on the property, which is located at the geographic center of town.

Both West Orange chief financial officer John Gross and financial adviser Michael Hanley disagreed with Rutherford, saying that there is not a developer anywhere who would build on the site without a tax abatement.

“This is the deal that can be done under these circumstances,” Hanley said at the meeting. “For residents to understand what they’re getting or not getting, we have to compare it to what we’re getting now and what we believe we can get from this deal. The third option is a fantasy; it doesn’t exist. No one has offered it. The buildings have been sitting there as class B office space. No one has offered to build this project at conventional taxes and no one would, because there would be no return on that project. This project needs the financial agreement that we are providing.”

Gross added that the project will make money for the township rather than lose it.

“If this project is not built, then you’re not going to see those tax dollars,” he said at the meeting. “With the cost of doing business in Essex County, particularly in this suburban area of West Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, you’re not going to build without a PILOT. It’s not going to happen. They won’t do it, because the other municipalities are quite anxious to have the developers come and have these projects built in their towns.”

Other council members pointed out what the township would gain.

“We are not losing. We are gaining,” Councilwoman Tammy Williams said at the meeting. “There is no reason for us to not acknowledge the pluses that this PILOT is offering to the community. Many of the other PILOTS in neighboring towns have not been the beneficiary of what we are gaining. I urge us to focus on those positives and not look to the future for something that is not real.”

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino mentioned the possibility of the developer building a new animal shelter on the two acres of land slated for a dog park instead of the park, freeing up the space inside the office building for another renter.

“That’s other revenue that could be contributed to the overall numbers,” she said. “There are a lot of moving parts with this. We’re getting a lot. We can all debate the numbers over and over again, but we are gaining a lot for our taxpayers.”

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