Westfield Approves PILOT Agreement; Denies Marijuana

By JESSE WINTER
For The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Town Council’s packed Tuesday night agenda saw the passage of financial agreements for a South Avenue redevelopment project, a first look at conceptual plans for a 162-unit residential development at Williams Nursery and the town’s decision to opt out on marijuana dispensaries.

The council took the first step in authorizing a financial agreement, granting long-term tax-exemption status for real estate development firm Elite Properties of Warren for the construction of the sites outlined in the South Side Redevelopment Plan, known as Westfield Crossing.

The proposed financial agreement, a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), exempts Elite Properties from property taxes for 30 years — instead requiring the firm to pay a percentage of its annual total revenues to the municipality.

Council members Linda Habgood, Dawn Mackey, David Contract, Scott Katz, Mark Parmelee and Michael Dardia voted yes on introduction of the ordinance. Mark LoGrippo voted no, with Councilman James Boyes not in attendance. Mayor Shelley Brindle also voted yes.

The deal, outlined during the meeting, would require Elite Properties to pay 10 percent of its total revenues for the first six years, with incremental percentage increases beyond that. Year seven will see an 11-percent payout, year 13 a 12-percent payout, and year 21 a 13-percent payout to the town. As per New Jersey law, the town retains 95 percent of the revenue and 5 percent goes to Union County each year. Under state law, PILOT revenue does not have to be shared with the board of education.

Critically, if passed on final reading during the Tuesday, June 15 council meeting, the ordinance would set in motion a project that will see the town offer 36 units of affordable housing, fulfilling part of a court-mandated obligation to provide affordable-housing opportunities within the municipality.

The PILOT project, the first undertaken by Westfield, will see the creation of three mixed-use buildings consisting of 193 residential units. The redevelopment plan also outlines 17,000 square feet of retail space and 320 parking spaces.

The sites sit on approximately 5.6 acres of property in an area of Westfield ruled to be “a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment” by the town back in 2020. In early 2021, the council approved the South Side Redevelopment Plan, which includes areas of South Avenue East and Windsor Avenue on the east side of town on the border with Garwood. Currently, the lots within the redevelopment plan host light-industrial sites, and in some cases are vacant.

Under the PILOT agreement with Elite Properties, the developer also will be required to pay $380,000 into the town’s Park Improvement Fund. The South Avenue Redevelopment Plan also calls for the developer to construct a park within the site which will eventually be deeded over to the town for ownership.

Elite Properties’ prior projects include nearby Fanwood Crossing.

During a presentation given to the council and public, members of the redevelopment team sought to assuage concerns over issues such as the potential influx of additional students into Westfield Public Schools.

Speaking before the ordinance’s introduction Tuesday night, Robert Powell, managing director of Nassau Capital Advisors — a firm that assisted the town in negotiating the proposed PILOT with Elite Properties — cited a study done by Rutgers in 2018 dealing with housing demographics. According to his remarks, Mr. Powell anticipates the new apartments would attract 24 school-age children in grades 1 through 12.

Speaking to The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times on Tuesday, ahead of the ordinance’s introductory vote, Mayor Brindle explained that a PILOT proposal is the only way to make the Redevelopment Plan with the mandated affordable units financially “feasible.”

“What this council wanted to do was be able to assert more control over the outcome of this project,” Mayor Brindle said.

Mayor Brindle noted the redevelopment plan allows the town to mandate the “quality of the materials,” “the quality of the design” and “public improvements” in what is considered to be a gateway to the east side of Westfield from Garwood.

“Does every project warrant a redevelopment agreement, or a PILOT? No,” remarked Mayor Brindle. “It depends on the nature of the site.”

Moreover, the mayor said the South Side Redevelopment Plan, in addition to fulfilling the court-mandated need for the town to provide affordable housing, would potentially contribute funding for future town projects such as a new firehouse and turf fields.

In other business, the governing body introduced an ordinance on first reading amending Westfield’s land-use ordinance — increasing the housing density at the 6.61-acre Williams Nursery site to accommodate six additional affordable-housing units being transferred from the Handler Building site on North Avenue, near the Garwood border.

According to the introduced ordinance, the Handler Building site “is unlikely to redevelop for residential housing because the building on the site is not conducive to conversion from industrial use to residential use.”

Within this, residents also got a first look at a conceptual drawing for the proposed 162 units, with 32 set aside for affordable housing, at the Williams site on Springfield Avenue.

Councilman LoGrippo voted no on introduction, with the rest of the attending council and Mayor Brindle voting yes.

The town will host a Facebook Live session on affordable housing at noon on Monday, June 7.

Separately, a jammed-packed night of municipal business also saw all governing body members in attendance, including Mayor Brindle, vote yes on the introduction of an ordinance opting out of recreational-cannabis dispensaries and related cannabis businesses in Westfield.

The vote came after the Cannabis Commission, led by Councilmen Dardia and Parmelee, recommended the town opt out — at least for the foreseeable future. A letter explaining the decision can be found on page 5.

Voicing his support for the town’s decision to opt out was resident Bill West.

“I did want to thank the Cannabis Commission for coming to the conclusion that most of the public, I believe, had recommended and that is opting out of allowing cannabis stores and all the other cannabis categories in town,” remarked Mr. West. “I think it’s the right choice at this time.”

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