Deal on old Roselle Park car dealership stalled

Photo by Brian Trusdell
Approval to turn the long-vacant Sullivan Chevrolet dealership on Westfield Avenue in Roselle Park into apartments and retail space has been put on hold.

ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Final approval of a 20-year tax abatement for a proposed mixed-use development that would replace a long-vacant car dealership on Westfield Avenue was tabled at the June 6 Borough Council meeting, pending a site plan approval by the local Land Use Board.

The motion to table the ordinance, which was up for second reading, passed in a 5-1 vote after discussions on the payment in lieu of taxes agreement — or PILOT — with the developer, Meridia at Park Square, took over the meeting.
The motion to table came from 1st Ward Councilwoman Jayme Lynn Negron, and 2nd Ward Councilman Joe Petrosky was the sole vote against the motion.

Meridia is proposing to erect two apartment buildings that will include 325 apartments above 16,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. The apartments will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, including 16, one-bedroom reduced-rate or “affordable” units, when the second building is constructed.

The development would be located on the 3.85-acre property at 10 West Westfield Ave. at the end of Chestnut Street that housed the Sullivan Chevrolet dealership before it closed in 2008.

The plans also call for a minimum of 500 spaces for on-site parking, with 10 dedicated for nonresidential free parking.
The council voted 5-1 to introduce the PILOT at the May 16 meeting.

Councilman Joe DeIorio, who was the sole vote against the agreement’s introduction at the May meeting, was the first to address the financial agreement, bringing up the issue that the affordable units would only be one-bedroom units. To address potential future Mount Laurel housing obligations, the borough may have to ask future developers to include two and three-bedroom reduced-rate units, he stated.

The borough currently isn’t under any obligation and borough attorney Jarrid Kantor said that making the 16 units reduced rate is a “proactive move.”

A 1975 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling requires every municipality in the state to zone for its own affordable housing.
Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Connelly stated that his issues aren’t with the financial agreement itself but with the design standards put forth in the redevelopment plan.

“Can we change the entryways and so forth?” he asked.
Mayor Joe Signorello told Connelly that the redevelopment plans are just conceptual and that final plans must be approved by the Municipal Land Use Board.

Kantor noted that councilmembers seem to be anxious about whether the developer will “fulfill what they promised.”
“We have a contract and they’re bound by the terms of that contract,” he said. “That’s all you can do in a business relationship is entering into a contract.”
Councilwoman Negron said at the meeting that several residents have reached out to her with concerns regarding the financial agreement.

“Nobody emailed me to tell me to vote ‘yes’ on the PILOT and move the project forward,” she said. “As a councilperson, I have to take into consideration the residents.”

Signorello said at the end of the meeting that he feels the borough took a “big step back” in terms of “building the downtown that we want to see.”

“I want to be clear that, even though government moves slow, in my world you need to move fast because finance moves fast and the competition moves fast and we’re in competition here in Union County,” Signorello said. “We’ve been behind the eight ball for a very long time and we just decided to stay behind the eight ball a little bit longer in my view.”

Prior to the meeting, DeIorio had listed his concerns regarding the Meridia project in a four-part post on his public Facebook page, stating that the project, if approved, will be the largest apartment complex in the borough. He referred to his post in the council meeting.

DeIorio also said he projects the increase in school-aged children to be 78 per year, contrary to testimony provided by the borough’s redevelopment attorney in March that the anticipated yearly increase in the number of school aged students would be 20.

DeIorio’s post went on to cite that the Meridia project will increase traffic along Locust and Chestnut streets.
“If history is a guide to what may come, I suspect in the short term, there will be renewed interest and activity in our downtown area. But in the long term, as history has shown, overdevelopment and density will place additional financial and quality of life burdens to the residents of Roselle Park and the decisions local representatives will need to make in the future,” the post concluded.

In September, Meridia plans to demolish the one-story building currently situated on the property that served as a car dealership’s showroom, offices and garages, and construction is slated to begin in April 2020, with the project expected to be completed by July 2023.

The borough had designated the property as an “area in need of redevelopment” in October 2017, and a redevelopment plan for the property was adopted in September 2018.