Geoff Gove: New Year’s Eve of Destruction in Bloomfield

The current plan by Garden Commercial Properties is to create two buildings along the lower bend of the Third River, four stories each with a parking deck beneath, to serve as luxury one or two-bedroom apartments. The developer has said that the properties could begin as rental units and potentially become condominiums when the real estate market improves. In the process, about two dozen back office and warehouse businesses were given eviction notices in preparation for the demolition.

The planned 300-unit development has sparked controversy at many town council meetings. Reminded that she approved the bill when it first came up (along with the rest of the council), Councilor Janice Litterio replied that the full scope of the project was not made clear. “I feel snookered,” she said when summarizing her traffic concerns. There was also much debate regarding the planned 30 year tax abatement negotiated with the developer, Zygmunt Wilf, the owner of the Minnesota Vikings, who has himself been the subject of controversy.

Commenting on the news of a $100,000 grant received for studying the causes and cures of flooding along Bloomfield’s segment of the Third River, Councilman Nick Joanow asserted that

You don’t build on a floodplain. There’s a cost/benefit analysis that needs to be understood …. Homes along that river have lost 5 to 10 feet of their property due to riverbank erosion. There are homes that are consistently flooding…the water has to go somewhere.

He referenced the township’s 2002 Master Plan which included the Army Corps of Engineers conclusion that

The increase in the intensity and number of 100 year and 500 year flood events can be attributed to the way that development has occurred in Bloomfield. Impervious surface coverage along stream corridors in wetlands and floodplain areas leaves stormwater with no place to go. Generally these areas would absorb and filter the waters acting as a natural detention basin for the surrounding community. In Bloomfield, storm water travels through streets, driveways, and sometimes basements, rather than vegetated riparian corridors and wetlands.

Demolition of the structures on the north side of the site is planned to be completed by New Years Day.

Geoff Gove is a realtor at Century 21 Van Der Wende who blogs at EcoRealty.

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  1. Where exactly is this located? I’m not familiar with “the lower bend of the Third River.” Perhaps other folks know this “address?”

  2. It’s directly across from Oakside Mansion. You can still drive down the hill and park in the Memorial Park lot. The falls below the bridge are quite spectacular after heavy rains.

  3. Originally the textile millworks for the Oake family where they made uniforms for the Union army during the civil war.
    Now they’ll put up a placque on Belleville Ave. Very Montclairish.
    You can’t get down Belleville Ave. now at rush hour with the slow stop light at JFK, how are you going to get into or out of your rental/ condo?

  4. Add one more light at the entrance and you’ll have 4 sets of lights within about 100 yards.
    Usually, traffic patterns like the one around Belleville Avenue are analyzed in great detail at the Planning Board level. This development seems to have been fast-tracked and bi-passed this process. Waiting for more info on this from a Board member.

  5. “I feel snookered” No. You are an idiot. This is your job and you did it wrong. Sometimes people get caught up with the idea of “Im making an important decision, that makes me feel smart.” Not realizing that they are an idiot and ultimately the people will see that she “snookered” the public when she ran for office on the platform that she was capable of doing her job. Janice, If you ever drove down Belleville Ave you would know where the proposed location was and immediately think “This is going to cause a traffic concern.” I hope you get re-elected, because Id rather redirect my morning commute than have you screw up my coffee order

  6. My route on Belleville Ave the last year or so:
    Belleville ave west to the GSP entrance south to Hoover ave exit then up into GR. After the mondo condo goes in and no change in the traffic light pattern at JFK, it will be my route forever unless the traffic backs up to the Parkway entrance.

  7. This whole thing stinks. More people, more kids, more need for classrooms, more tax money needed = tax abatement for the developer and higher taxes for everyone else. Crystal clear logic town council.

    Also, ‘luxury apartment in Bloomfield’ is an oxymoron.

    And some wonder why there are sceptics about Bloomfield’s redevelopment plans.

  8. So, according to posters here, this is along Belleville Avenue, apparently somewhere close to JFK? Could you add the specific location into the story please — that is negligent not having it in there.

    Also, how many units is this? And how many bedrooms total? Why isn’t this info in the story, this is basic, beginner journalism.

    And what is this drivel about maybe it will be rented at first, and maybe later they will change and sell them as condos? That is NOT an acceptable plan! That is a plan for mass eviction and dislocation and cost upon renters who have been good tenants and paying their rents. If these people are not serious about building rentals, then don’t let them build and rent! If they want condos, they should be condos from the get-go. The residents cannot be set up as cannon fodder for these people. The residents cannot be set up to be jerked around. How in hell could you be giving money and tax benefits to people with such disregard for the well being of Bloomfield residents!

  9. BUT you have the soothing sounds of the Parkway to lull you to sleep at night…suspend belief and it could be the ocean.
    It’s right behind the garden apts on Belleville ave & JFK.
    Across from Oakside, originally owned by the one of the Oakes, the other Oake mansion was knocked down to make way for the garden apts.

  10. me1004, this was a followup to an earlier piece and all the details of the 225 Belleville project were in the first link — but the address should have been repeated.

  11. The development is behind the apartments and between JFK and GSP. Originally there were supposed to be 20% affordable housing under state law. Christie repealed that law and all of a sudden the developer signs on to build. It was expected to be about 200-250 units (if I remember correctly).

    There was no negotiation about the 30 year abatement. It was agreed to without real discussion. Yoshi Manale said, “It’s the only way I could get the developer to agree.” That development would bring about $1 million a year in taxes to the town. The same thing happened with the “affordable housing” project across from PD HQ. There is 20 year abatement at another $1 million a year. Don’t forget all of this is done with the mayor and Yoshi cutting the fire department and other town services. More residents=more strain on the schools and other town services that are already being “taxed”.

    I find it interesting that the mayor’s house WAS in foreclosure until the Oakes deal and downtown developer were chosen.

  12. me1004 posted “The residents cannot be set up as cannon fodder for these people. The residents cannot be set up to be jerked around. How in hell could you be giving money and tax benefits to people with such disregard for the well being of Bloomfield residents!”

    Sure they can! This is Bloomfield where tax payers and residents are at best annoyances to the mayor and his council of cronies (exception Nick Joanow this coming year). Go to a council meeting and have the nerve to stand up at the mic and voice your concerns or disagreement with any decision this group of reprobates makes and then stand back while hizzoner lets you have it right between the eyes.

  13. Thank YOU, me1004! That is exactly what I was getting at regarding the lack of a real address in the article. “The lower bend of the third river” — what is this — something out of the movie “Deliverance?!” I also thought this article was very poorly put together but I was trying not to be too snarky about it (the opening sentence reads like you’re coming into the middle of a story). However, discovering that I’m not the only one of this opinion has allowed me to be more forthcoming!

  14. @fussyhostess

    “The lower bend of the third river” IS exactly where it is.

    The property is quite a bit lower than that surrounding it. In order to get to it you exit Belleville Ave on what looks like a large driveway. There is a sign that says 225 but when I was last by there it didn’t stand out. There is a bridge and sometimes a rushing Third River.

    Did you know that Bloomfield was once a river town. That both the Second and Third Rivers run through it as well as Toney’s Brook and the Morris Canal did as well.

    This from the Bloomfield Township website

    “In the 1830’s there were six gristmills, two cotton factories, five sawmills, four copper mills, three paper mills, one paint mill, two calico print works, three woolen mills, several shoe factories and seventeen merchants in town. The Oakes Woolen Mill was founded in 1830 and lasted until the 1940’s, at one time being the largest industry in town. In 1837 Luis Peloubet opened a musical instrument factory which later made well-known melodeons and organs. “

  15. I believe the corruption in this project goes beyond the local leaders, as corrupt as they may be. The site is a Superfund site, as of yet un-remediated. It was formerly the home of National Starch, which made glue and other products, and produced such toxicity that when we first moved our business to 225 Belleville Ave., we had liability insurers refuse to underwrite our policies on the grounds of our proximity to National Starch. One year there was an explosion which killed a man there. There was another business on the property: Park Place, a manufacturer of car parking lifts, which dumped a lot of hydrolic oil on the site which has never been cleaned up. It is also in a flood plain: the site flooded badly during both hurricanes Floyd and Irene, and the data is clearly listed (and posted here once by Pat Gilleran.) There is also at least one leaking underground fuel storage tank.
    Somehow none of this prevents Mr. Wilf from proceeding with his “luxury” 1 bedroom apartments. One has to wonder how he has managed to circumvent the clean-up regulations, the distance required from waterway regulations, etc.

    My husband and I spoke against the project at a Bloomfield council meeting
    the year before last, and the 30 year abatement was voted down by the council then. As soon as the three people who voted against it were off the council, Mayor McCarthy pushed it though — within months of it having been once defeated. I do not believe the second vote was ever announced in an agenda prior to the vote, though I might be wrong about that. But decisions were definitely made behind closed doors, without public input.

  16. Kit, you may be right about the closed door process used to get this plan through. One Planning Board member I asked about this was totally silent, even though he/she had spoken privately against it. Another would only speak off the record: ” It is truly a disgrace. They should never build on a floodplain because we, the taxpayers, will have to bail out any flood victims. This is a scam on property owners in this town (both on home owners and small businesses).”

  17. Many thanks for the history lesson, Pat, but it’s still good journalism NOT to assume that all readers would have such knowledge. The writer even admitted that the address should have been included here and not just available through a link to an earlier article. I’ve noticed this problem on Baristanet in general — especially when it comes to including locations.

  18. I find it dismaying that the whole thing was pushed through as an area in need of redevelopment without regard to the historic nature of the property in question. It’s another example of Bloomfield disregarding its history and historic properties. If those buildings had been on the State and National Registers of Historic Places as they should have been, the project could not have been done without a review by the NJ Historic Sites Council and a federal Section 106 review. In addition, by declaring it an area in need of redevelopment, the township took any zoning issues off the table; if it had been brought before the Zoning Board there might have been greater scrutiny of the plan, since zoning variances are not required to be granted. The Planning Board is only required to ensure that the plan fits with whatever the redevelopment plan had been set for and therefore has less leverage to make changes. If I am mistaken about this please correct me. I was trying to figure out if the financial agreement includes a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) such as the one that is part of the Center Redevelopment. If not I am wondering how the Mayor said the development will be bringing $600k to the tax rolls. If I can find more information I will post it here.

  19. I couldn’t get a copy of the financial agreement related to the development by searching the internet; apparently it is on file at town hall if we want to look at it. However, in the article cited above in the beginning of this post, in the first incarnation of the proposal, it does mention that part of the tax abatement would include a “pilot” program, meaning PILOT or Payment in Lieu of Taxes. So, while they will probably be paying less than they would for taxes per se, the developer WILL be paying the township payments that will help defer costs incurred by the development such as sewers and whatever else. However, the flooding and traffic issues are still a big problem and it remains to be seen whether these issues will outweigh the payments that may have been agreed to by the developer.

  20. If that PILOT covers the 30 year tax abatement period, that amounts to 20K a year. I’ll bet there are single family homes within 2 blocks if this 300+ family site that pay more than that. I can’t find any current tax records online for 225 Belleville. The nearest comparable commercial site is at 205 Belleville Ave. which pays $136,204. Once again, the taxpayers are on the hook for the difference.

  21. I have been told that a municipality cannot legally renege on a tax abatement agreement or deal they made with a developer UNLESS there was an illegal aspect to the making of the deal which would negate it.

    I’m not sure that failure to adequately publicize the proposed deal would constitute reason for nullification. Or whether, if one could prove it, the deal was “unduly” influenced by monetary payments. Or whether the Essex County Planning Board would have the political will to nix the deal as Belleville Ave is a county road and will be seriously impacted by hundreds of additional cars.

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