WEST ORANGE, NJ — At its April 26 meeting, the West Orange Township Council approved a resolution that authorizes the sale and purchase agreement, between the township and West Orange Senior Housing LLC, of the West Orange Public Library building on Mount Pleasant Avenue, advancing the process of moving the library to the Executive Drive site and building senior citizen affordable housing on top of the existing library building. The resolution passed with a vote of 4-1; Councilman Bill Rutherford cast the opposing vote.
“What this agreement does is allow us to move forward with the project at the library site,” township attorney Richard Trenk said at the meeting. “It permits those 7,500 square feet of space to be used for whatever the township needs, whether it be a community space, whether it be a senior space, whether it be a satellite library, whatever particular need exists.”
The proposed structure on Mount Pleasant Avenue will house 65 units of affordable senior housing, according to Trenk. The project’s lead developer is the Alpert Group LLC, the same developer led by Joe Alpert that built the Central Avenue building on the Orange and West Orange border. The Alpert Group is buying the building.
“Considering the fact that we have a settlement agreement for affordable housing, considering that fact that senior citizens cannot find a place to continue to live that’s affordable for them, to me this is something that I think we should really focus on,” Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown said at the meeting when the council discussed the resolution.
The Renna House, one of two current senior apartment buildings in West Orange, is behind the library and Town Hall and would be a walk across the parking lot from the new facility. Councilwoman Michelle Casalino cited this as another benefit of the project.
“You’d have two senior houses next to each other,” she said at the meeting. “That 7,500 square feet of community space — whether it’s a library annex or meeting space or for the residents right there — is a great bonus.”
Rutherford said at the meeting when discussing the resolution that he is skeptical of the first floor of community space becoming a satellite library because there will not be a budget increase for the library to operate two spaces. He is also concerned that the project was not put out to bid, even though he is supportive of Alpert.
“It is not likely to be a satellite library, so moving the library from that space to Executive Drive leaves the corridor that needs the library the most when it comes to having access to Wi-Fi and computers without access to the facilities that they rely on,” Rutherford said. “It’s difficult for some folks to get up to Executive Drive. We know that corridor has a concentration of the least affluent residents in town, who are more likely than not to not have Wi-Fi or not even have a computer at home. For those folks who rely on that, it becomes difficult for them to get access to the services they need.”
Casalino pointed out that the Friends of the West Orange Library and the library’s board of trustees still intend to have internet, computers and books available at the potential satellite library, and a jitney route to Executive Drive is part of the development plan.
“This library board has been working really hard, and their intent is to leave services in that building through that 7,500 square feet,” she said. “It’s not a big annex building, but services are services. People will be served. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will be left behind, because they will not be.”