A proposal to transform the former Universal Chain factory site at 92 Burnett Avenue into a large rental apartment complex took another significant step.
In a 4-to-1 vote, the Maplewood Township Committee agreed on Tuesday to grant owner Elite Properties a 30-year tax exemption on paying the full property tax rate for the apartment complex. Instead, township officials authorized a payment in lieu of taxes, an annual service charge of about 2 percent of the cost of the total project.
The agreement was intended to make the project more financially feasible and to draw support from potential investors, Mayor Victor DeLuca and Elite Properties General Counsel David Checchio said in an interview on Wednesday.
Details on apartment project
The developer proposed to construct a 126-unit apartment complex on the empty site. The project - tentatively named Maplewood Commons - would be a four-story complex consisting of 110-market rate and 16 affordable apartment units for rent with enclosed and outdoor parking, Checchio said. The apartments would be one-and two-bedroom units.
The target demographics for Maplewood Commons apartments would be young professionals and empty-nesters, Checchio said.
If approved, Maplewood Commons would be the Warren company's first project in the township. Elite Properties recently completed Birch Glenn Estates, a 330-unit condo in Piscataway, Middlesex County, Checchio said, and the company is working on redeveloping downtown Fanwood, Union County.
Mayor Victor DeLuca and Elite Properties General Counsel Dave Checchio said they estimated that the payment in lieu of taxes for Maplewood Commons would be about $420,000 if the total cost of the project is the estimated $21 million.
DeLuca also said the developer would still be paying property taxes on the land - just not on the apartment complex itself.
Council vote and reactions
Mayor DeLuca, Deputy Mayor Kathleen Leventhal and Committeemen Jerry Ryan and Marlon Brownlee voted for the tax exemption.
DeLuca said Maplewood would benefit from the apartment complex because it will fix a former industrial site and improve the housing mix in the township.
The project could also bring new people into the township who might shop along Springfield Avenue, he added.
Committeewoman India Larrier cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concerns about the possible financial impact on the school district.
Larrier said the apartment complex is "badly needed" in the township, but she thinks the payment in lieu of taxes should be reviewed every five years.
Deputy Mayor Leventhal also voiced concerns about how the complex could impact the school district. But she voted for the tax exemption and supported the proposal.
"I think its a fantastic project for Maplewood," she said Wednesday. "It does provide a type of housing we really have very little of: middle income. There are small units, so it would allow people of retirement age to downsize, young professionals to come in."
She added that future apartment dwellers could also be commuters who work in New York City and take advantage of the jitney and New Jersey Transit.
No one from the audience spoke about the project Tuesday during the public comment hearing. Council members said they received a handful of e-mails and talked to a few concerned residents about the project.
The Maplewood Commons project still needs to appear for the Maplewood Planning Board for site plan approval, as well as obtain other approvals from state and county officials, Checchio said.
If approved, Checchio said the company hopes to break ground this fall.