Birchwood PILOT share with schools still up in air

Photo by Brian Trusdell
Construction of the Birchwood apartment complex in Cranford near Kenilworth is progressing with an expected opening next year. Residents have questioned what portion of the PILOT the township is to receive will be shared with the public schools.

CRANFORD, N.J. — Township officials are still debating what portion, if any, of the Birchwood PILOT will be shared with the public school district to offset the impact of the 225-unit apartment complex set to open next year near the Kenilworth border.

The PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, was approved by the Township Committee for the Birchwood complex in May 2018, with officials vowing to take the relatively unusual step of sharing a portion of it with the school district. Because they are “in lieu” of taxes, PILOTs exempt developments from paying taxes based on the assessed value of the property in place of a set negotiated fee. Birchwood was granted a 30-year PILOT.

Under the PILOT agreement, Birchwood Developers Urban Renewal Associates will pay 11 percent of its yearly gross revenue to the town as an annual payment, rather than taxes. The developers of the Birchwood Avenue project also will pay an annual 2 percent administrative fee to the township.

“There have been substantial conversations among this township committee regarding it, and when we talk about the PILOT, there are many meetings about the PILOT itself,” Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley said during the Sept. 24 Township Committee meeting. “You cannot go to that PILOT and make a decision on that particular PILOT until a lot of things are squared away.”

The remark came in response to a question from school board candidate Brian Lopez about the status of the PILOT sharing.

Mayor Patrick Giblin, who voted against the PILOT as a regular committee member because he said at the time that it did not specify what portion would be shared, echoed Dooley’s comments.

“This board, this governing body, said we understand the impact of this project on the board of ed.” Giblin said. “If you go back and read the resolution, we commit to working to come up with a formula to allocate those resources. This isn’t something every municipality does. We want to make sure we’re providing enough for the Board of Education.”

A demographer hired by the Cranford school board in February estimated that 99 new students would come from the Birchwood complex, which is slated to have 34 reduced rate affordable apartments, as mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s several disputed Mount Laurel decisions.

In other actions, the Cranford Township Committee approved a proposal for the business administrator to seek bids for renovating the recently purchased MHS Tennis Academy on Centennial Avenue, to transform it into a recreation center.

“Going out for proposals from qualified firms will help the township determine the best use for the facility moving forward,” Business Administrator Jamie Cryan told the committee.

Cryan also updated the members on the status of road projects and money received from the state to complete them. During the past two years, the Cranford has received funds from the Department of Transportation which will be used for roadway improvements on South Union Avenue, from Lincoln Avenue to Lexington Avenue, Cryan said. The grant was awarded to P&A Construction, who has worked with the township in the past.

“The township DOT grants totalled $665,000 and are anticipated to fund over 50 percent of the project’s construction costs,” he said. “The project consists of roadway, sidewalk, and drainage improvements including the construction of accessible curb ramps, reconstruction of curb concrete and hot asphalt driveways, full depth pavement repairs, etc.”

At the meeting, the committee also passed an ordinance that opens a road moratorium on Mohawk Drive for Elizabethtown. According to Cryan, “Sometimes utility companies, in this case Elizabethtown Gas, need to go back in to upgrade their infrastructure, and if they do so on a road that was paved within the last five years, as this is, they need Township Committee approval and must pay a penalty that allows us to repave this and other roads.”