Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, August 24, 2012

Smart Growth Towers

Mom always said that the little town of Bloomingdale, N.J., population approximately 7,500, existed in a bubble.  She said one day that bubble would burst and the crowded, outside world would burst in.  Mom and Dad were from that crowded outside world, New York City.  The locals weren't too happy when our development of modest homes was built on this former picnicking hill.  They felt a bunch of city slickers were invading their rural community.  They were right; sort of.

My parents moved to Yonkers, N.Y., but found they couldn’t afford the gentrified taxes of Westchester County, and after a stint in California, moved to New Jersey, which at the time had low taxes and plenty of jobs.  Bloomingdale, to their sophisticated minds, was a backwater.  No library (to speak of), no high school, no traffic lights, no sidewalks in our “low-density” development, and virtually no crime.  They were willing to sacrifice the cultural temptations of the city to have us grow up safe.

Mom didn’t think too much of the provincial locals, but she had own garden and a backyard where she could keep an eye on us and feed the birds.  Bloomingdale was surrounded by woodlands and we could go hiking and breathe relatively fresh air.  The only pollution was the Butler Rubber Factory, a fact of life for the students at the high school.

Then Route 287 was finally finished.  Driving along Union Avenue, which connects to a Rt. 287 interchange, we knew Bloomingdale’s days a rustic, Colonial-era town were numbered.  The most likely target was the very tract of land that’s now being developed.

As noted in a previous log, the prime suspect developer was Long Island-based Avalon communities, and the guess was correct.  The local newspaper, the bi-weekly Suburban Trends, finally reported on the story.  And locals have been up in arms for months about this development.

The contractors have been blasting away every day for weeks to remove some 30-tons of rock to make way for a high-density – “high-density” as in literally high - apartment/condo building that will house 174 units on 11 acres of land.  On that small a parcel, the only way you could fit 174 units in is if you build up.

This means, in all probability, a building between 20 and 30 stories.  No structure in Bloomingdale is that high, not even the fire tower in Norvin Green State Forest.  What’s more, the building will either have no parking at all, or an underground parking garage.

Union Avenue is a winding, two-lane country road, sparsely populated at its eastern end, cutting between hillsides.  Another, even larger complex of 300 units is planned on the other side of the road.  Union Avenue will not be able to handle that much condensed traffic.  The prospect that the road will have to be widened and straightened is practically foregone conclusion.  That will mean wiping out a number of homes.  Now we know why they made the new firehouse out of warehouse tin, and farther away from the more populated area of the flats and the hilltop development.

We were also amazed some years ago at the routing of a NJ Transit bus along sparsely populated Union Avenue, where there are scarcely any riders.  The mystery is solved.  We knew and yet the development is still an unwelcome shock.  Townhouses are ubiquitous in northern New Jersey and no one would have thought twice about it.  A monstrous, 30-story high rise in the midst of our little country town, though, is something of a culture shock.

Avalon Bay.  Now why would a developer name its high-rise building, in the midst of swamp and woodland, Avalon Bay?  Avalon Woods, Avalon Springs, Avalon Gardens, maybe.  “Bay” suggests an ocean.  An ocean resort.  An expensive clothing line specializing in resort wear.  We’re miles from any noticeable shoreline.  But the Long Island-based company is not.  Long Island is all about the ocean and the beach.  We suspect that they’re marketing to Long Island residents who find themselves encroached upon by crime, crowding, and corruption.  Their shoreline residences – some literally right up against the water – are no longer insurable.  How do you appeal to island residents to buy a high-rise condo in the middle of the woods?  You call it “Avalon Bay.”

Boy, are those future residents in for a surprise.  Well, we do have plenty of lakes – and rivers that flood.  Not that they’ll need them because this high-rise will feature a spa and a swimming pool, along with all sorts of green technology amenities.  And all they had to do was blast a hillside away to accomplish it.

Flooding is one of the primary concerns about this plot of land.  With the hillside basically gone now, the water won’t have anywhere to go.  Local residents are also concerned about water and sewage facilities.  There’s no sewage system down there.  They’re also worried about the COAH regulations.  So were the developers, apparently worried about frightening off wealthier prospects, and managed to get the number of COAH units knocked down from 27 to 9.

Such an influx of residents – depending on their demographics – could also overwhelm our tiny school system.  The closest school – the Martha B. Day school – was overcrowded from the day it opened in 1963.  Administrators had to add trailers to deal with the overcrowding.

Another concern is the nursing home facility next door.  How is the blasting affecting the sick and elderly residents?  It’s not likely that they’ll stay there long before Avalon buys them out, which would make way either for stores or a house of worship.  Wonder what The Alliance will have to say about that?  There’s a silver lining in every cloud.

The official account from the Trends is this:  The Bloomingdale Borough Council introduced an ordinance to allow for a program called “PILOT”, payment in lieu of taxes.  However, details of this strange financial arrangement will not be made public until the borough reaches a final agreement with the developer, although the town promised residents at an Aug. 14 that they would not enter into such an arrangement if it didn’t make financial sense.  A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 4, 2012, with the vote tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6.

Avalon Communities brought a builder’s remedy lawsuit against the borough, according to the Trends, “and has been allowed to build a high-density housing development with state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) units.  In addition, the developer should get a tax discount on top of the other benefits it has derived by suing the borough.”

According to Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy and Borough Auditor Dieter Lerch, “taxes paid could be based on a percentage of the developer’s gross revenue for a project, or it can be based on a percentage of the project’s construction costs.  The amount of taxes then grows 2 to5 percent annually.  PILOT programs are typically in effect for 20 or 30 years.  Ninety-five percent of the taxes will go to Bloomingdale and the remaining five percent to Passaic County.”

Dunleavy hopes to pay down municipal debt with the additional taxes.  He said it would also be an investment in the borough’s “aging infrastructure” and would “stabilize taxes.”  The idea is that giving a tax break to the developer will bring in more tax revenue from the new residents.

But condominium owners don’t pay the same amount in taxes as property owners do, since they have no property.  Hence, the size of the development.

The tax question aside, this high-rise apartment building in the midst of a suburban town might as well be called “Smart Growth Towers.”  Avalon Communities is a multi-billion dollar company that specializes in “green development.”  This apartment building is exactly in line with the Smart Growth agenda of crowding human beings into small spaces, where they won’t own any property.

Roads will be widened, private homes will be subjected to eminent domain, more police will have to be hired, mass transit is already in place, the firehouse can easily be set back to accommodate a widened road, and Bloomingdale will be “transformed” from a quiet town that has only one traffic light to an inland version of Hoboken.  Bloomingdale, in time, will no longer be a place to raise families and tend gardens, but rather simply a place to bunk down until it’s time to go to work.

In keeping with Smart Growth’s agenda of placing communities near educational facilities, Passaic County Community College is right down the road.  Would that they had built the college when I was in school.  I would have had a two-minute to class instead of 45 minutes.

Bloomingdale’s taxes will rise with this high-rise apartment building, and another, even bigger 300-unit complex planned for the future.  If the Meer Estate tract is developed, the town’s existing schools will not suffice.  The town of Butler will probably end its receiving-student agreement with Bloomingdale and the town will (finally) have to build its own high school.   That means more tax money.  In a bad economy, a high-rise like this comes with good news and bad news.  Wealthier people will move in.  Businesses will follow.  But current residents likely will not be able to afford the prices, not even, or should we say, especially not, at the food stores.

We already have evidence of that.  Food prices at Pathmark in Kinnelon, where residents are quite well-to-do, are shockingly higher than they are at Shop-Rite of Oakland, a couple of hills away.  Just as in Vail, Colo., only two classes of people will be able to live in Bloomingdale – the wealthy and the service class.  As there are virtually no jobs in New Jersey, workers who can’t afford the commute to the city or the cost-of-living even in a town like Bloomingdale, will eventually take their Conservative, middle-class values and go away, just as the Liberals want them to do.

May the ghosts of the Pompton Mutiny haunt them.



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