PEAPACK-GLADSTONE – A proposed redevelopment of Lackawanna Avenue could be aided by a state designation but a consultant’s belief that it doesn’t qualify was backed by the Land Use Board in a unanimous vote on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
At issue was a study to determine whether land eyed for a mix of affordable housing, market-rate housing and retail uses fit the criteria to be deemed “an area in need of redevelopment.” The designation would permit specific zoning and offer incentives like tax credits to stimulate development of the site.
The development plan offered by Gladstone-based Mellilo Equities would help the borough meet its state-mandated “Round III” affordable housing obligation through 2025.
But a borough-authorized study by Burgis Associates, a Westwood-based planning firm, said in a 63-page report that the properties’ condition, occupancy rate and ownership status were too favorable to meet the criteria to be designated as an “area in need of redevelopment” under state law.
Borough Planner John Szabo, an associate with Burgis, gave a presentation in which he said the most critical aspect involved the condition of the buildings under consideration. He said that while some repairs were needed, the buildings were structurally sound and well-maintained.
“I did not believe the building and site levels rose to a level of blight,” Szabo said.
Szabo documented the buildings’ interior and exterior conditions with more than 300 photographs, many of which were shown to the board.
The Lackawanna project would redevelop lots on each side of the road.
The lot on the east side includes: The Stable car dealership, 217 Main St.; the Equitack horse equipment building, 219 Main St.; Cafe Sapori, 12 Lackawanna Ave.; and the former Bevel Saddlery warehouse/office building, 10 Lackawanna Ave.
The lot on the west side includes a house at 33 Lackawanna Ave.; Dominick’s Pizza, 31 Lackawanna Ave.; an office barn with a multi-bay garage; and a metal roofed, unenclosed parking shelter.
Mellilo is seeking to redevelop the lots with 40 residential units, including three with income restrictions; 18,700 square feet of retail space; and 21,150 square feet of office space.
It still needs to file a site plan application with the Land Use Board.
Szabo said that in addition to the existing buildings being well maintained, they are largely utilized and have a single owner, Ferris Corp., so there are no title issues or diversity of ownership to impede utilization.
He also said the borough rezoned the two lots last year to permit multi-use development, and the new zoning “has not been given a chance yet.”
“Having experience in the area of redevelopment and knowing what the intent of the statute is, it would be too much of a stretch for me to recommend that all of this area qualifies,” Szabo said.
A public hearing drew no comments.
Board members voiced no objections to the recommendation.
Board Attorney Roger Thomas said he hoped to have a formal resolution prepared for the board’s next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 6. He said it would then be up to the Borough Council to accept or reject the board’s recommendation.
– W. Jacob Perry