HILLSIDE – The township is looking for a partner to serve as a redeveloper for close to five acres of blighted property on Central Avenue.
A request for proposals from the township went out at the end of May and although developers interested in partnering with the township had until June 27 to respond, last week that deadline was extended to July 11.
Rahway Mayor Samson Steinman, hired at the end of March as temporary business administrator by Mayor Angela Garretson, is spearheading the effort.
The properties Hillside is looking to redevelop include two particular lots with frontage along the south side of Central Avenue with the rear section backing up to the Lehigh Valley Railroad line.
A redeveloper will have their work cut out since the existing property has buildings and structures that have to be demolished, with the possible exception of a three-story structure at 1239 Central Avenue.
In order to move forward with any type of redevelopment, a municipality must abide by the Local Redevelopment and Housing laws requiring that a municipality designate a specific area as one in need of significant change, which Hillside has complied with prior to soliciting requests for proposals.
According to the 9-page solicitation, the area to be redeveloped includes 4.9 acres located at 1239 to 1269 Central Avenue, which previously was declared by the governing body as an area in need of redevelopment.
Hillside is following a trend that began in the late 1980s when municipalities realized they had to do something to revitalize areas that became blighted over time.
Cranford was one of the forerunners in this area, tackling a major redevelopment project called Cranford Crossing, but the road to redevelopment was not an easy one.
Forming a public-private partnership was a new concept at the time and not one that residents or all elected officials entirely understood or embraced.
Cranford, though, was convinced that redevelopment that included a mixed-use component of retail and residential units would revitalize the downtown business area.
In Cranford’s case, as in other towns that took on redevelopment projects, apartments and townhomes above retail stores brought about a central business district revival, luring restaurants and other businesses to the area.
Hillside, though, is not going that route or considering rezoning of the area in question.
The township clearly outlined in their RFP what they expect from a developer who is selected to partner with them on this venture, and the “professional, financial and administration qualifications” were a critical component.
However, they pointed out they are not interested in a residential component, but rather a project that will revitalize the area in keeping with the light industrial area as it is now zoned.
The developer selected will also have to be willing to work with the township to achieve the best combination of five general criteria, including presenting a project compatible with the area and acceptable to its citizens; sustainability; employment opportunities, especially for Hillside residents; impact on the township image; and proving that tax ratables will increase.
Specifically, the township noted that whoever is selected as a redeveloper for this project “will have to work under the terms and conditions determined by the township to provide the greatest benefit to the taxpayers of Hillside.”
The township also expects to be able to be involved in this venture in order to strengthen the financial base of its operations.
Cranford ran into problems when a developer was selected that had little experience in redevelopment and this caused considerable delays, legal wrangling and eventually the need to seek a more qualified developer.
Cranford also incurred legal costs in the process that raised the ire of certain governing body members and the public, not to mention a project that ended up mired in delays.
Hillside now legally owns the property in question through tax foreclosure but cleaning up any environmental issues will be be the sole responsibility of the developer selected for the project.
Since both properties are located in what is currently zoned “light industrial,” clean up is a possibility, but the township stressed this has to be done according to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection requirements.
In addition, the township indicated that while they will consider proposals for land uses not included in the light industrial area, they are only interested in developing the area into a single comprehensive project. The properties may not be developed individually.
Efforts to contact Steinman and Garretson regarding the proposed redevelopment project were unsuccessful.