Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Going Up or Down?

Everything is going up these days.  On Thursday, the Bloomingdale Town Council will make a final determination on the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program for Avalon Towers.  The ordinance, No. 16-2012, provides a financial agreement with Bloomingdale Urban Renewal, LLC, formerly known as Avalon Bay.  According to Mayor Dunleavy, taxes paid could be passed 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.

According to an article in the Sept. 2 issue of the Suburban Trends, the amount of taxes then grows to 2 to 5 percent annually in effect for 20 to 30 years.  Dunleavy said Bloomingdale benefits because it will receive 95 percent of the taxes while Passaic County gets 5 percent.  The school system will receive no tax money from the property owner, which is building an apartment complex at the Union Avenue site.

In an earlier Trends article, the development was described as “high-density.”  By the Smart Growth definition, in the book “Toward Sustainable Communities:  Resources for Citizens and Their Governments” by Mark Roseland, and published by New Society Publishers, using a ratio of floor area to parking lot area, “high ratio” means an apartment building – a big one.

“A high-rise apartment building?!” Mayor Dunleavy gasped, when I asked whether the Trends’ report was accurate.  “In Bloomingdale?!”

I presented “Toward Sustainable Communities” to the Mayor and Town Council, opened to page 135 ,with the illustrations of each type of housing form – low density (single homes, or dual attached homes), Medium Density (Ground-Oriented, Townhouse or cluster housing, and Apartment), and High Density (apartment).

As each member of the Council examined the book, I continued with my explanation of the history of Agenda 21 (which Mayor Dunleavy knew about), Smart Growth, and the latest inculcation, Building One America (and One New Jersey).  They gave me a collective deer-in-the-headlights stare when I told them about Building’s 2020 goal of “regionalizing” the suburbs, and how the N.J. Redevelopment Plan was the first step, starting with communities “sharing services” until finally all the suburban towns were under the auspices of one city, most likely Newark.  Some say the target city is New York City itself.  But that’s only eight years away.  September 11th was eleven years ago.

Remember the "Back to the Future" movie when “Marty” (actor Michael J. Fox) finished his guitar solo and the 1955 teenagers stood in stunned silence?  Yeah.  But I told them not to worry, that 2020 was still far away, that the current issue was Avalon Bay.

 nge.  One of the Town Council members assured me that the last time he saw the plans, they called for, at most, 3- or 4-story apartment buildings, with a total of 174 units on 11 acres of land.  Although it had been some time since he’d last seen them.  Mom said she couldn’t hear what they were saying.  But after we left the meeting, that was the first thing she noted.  During her career as a construction industry reporter, she’d seen enough developers change their plans right under a town council’s noses.  Still, let us take them at their word, at least for the time being.

Mayor Dunleavy reminded me, with some justice in my opinion, that the application was submitted in 2009.  I was only a spokeswoman for my mother.  In truth, I remembered reading about it and warning my mother.  But she didn’t want to get involved.  As I wasn’t a resident of the town any longer, there was nothing I could do.  So, I gave him a helpless-puppy look and he agreed to enlighten me on the situation.  I found the original year interesting – 2009.  That was the same year as Building One America was formed, and a year after the Recovery Act, otherwise known as the Stimulus Bill.  Down a long list of New Jersey recipients, the Bloomingdale Board of Education received $449k and the town received about $82k.

Bloomingdale’s town council should not be singled out for the mistake of accepting this money; nearly every town (and community organizing organization) accepted money.  No town could really be blamed for accepting back what they consider taxpayers’ money, although the money belongs to the individual taxpayers, not the municipalities in which the live.  They would figure, at least they got it back, even if it was for a collective purpose.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – or a free block grant.  Somewhere there was a string attached to that Stimulus money for Bloomingdale’s Board of Education, and Avalon Bay was probably it.  Apparently, it’s not the height of Avalon Bay that we need worry about but its depth.

The deal is done; all that’s left is to decide whether to initiate the Pilot program.  That will be decided at tomorrow night’s special town council meeting.  The problem is, the vote will be taken shortly after the public has finished commenting.  As Mom and I left the meeting, an attendee was shouting at the mayor about the unfairness of this procedure.

However, the Trends did publish the date of Sept. 4th as the public meeting time, a fact I’d overlooked.  Fortunately, I went to mooch dinner off Mom last night, and happened to bring all my literature with me.  We jumped in my SUV and dashed down to Town Hall, only to find a few people there.  Where was everyone, my mother and I wondered?  Didn’t they realize that the vote was going to be held on Thursday and that any commentary or complaints would be useless the night of the vote?

So, I got up and asked them to clarify a few items, like the height of the building(s), who was going to pay for the installation of utilities (presumably the developer), whether Union Avenue, a county road, was going to be widened.  The mayor thought not, but a council member reminded him that the road had to be widened at the entrance to provide an entry lane for residents and other traffic.

The angry apartment building owner, in addition to be justifiably angry that this developer was getting essentially a tax break other apartment building owners didn’t get, reminded them that this 174-unit complex would involve approximately 350 adults.  That would mean 350 cars coming and going out of Avalon Bay, unless the developer is also planning on a train line through Federal Hill.  The Meer Tract, across the road, would involve 300 units and 600 cars.

All that traffic on a two-lane, winding country road.  The mayor stated confidently that there were no plans to widen Union Avenue.  Actually, since it’s a county road, that would be an issue to take up with Passaic County, as the road runs through another town before its terminus.  Privately, I thought the mayor wasn’t looking far enough into his crystal ball, particularly if the other piece of land is developed.  Almost one thousand cars.

The town council gave out the tax facts.  I hope Mom was able to hear that because that kind of information goes right over my head.  I’m the family political analyst; my older brother is the family financial expert (after Mom, and like her, also a property management guru as he’s a facilities manager for a large company).

If you’re going to tomorrow night’s meeting in Bloomingdale, bear a few things in mind.  The mayor is right; in 2009, we were not paying attention.  The Tea Parties were inchoate.  If you care about what’s happening in your town, then get yourself out to the meetings.  Form a Town Meeting Club with your friends to take turn attending meetings and reporting on the meeting to the club.

In all fairness, this is not the first time this, or any other town, has traded favors with a developer.  The residents of Bloomingdale in 1960 were furious when our development was being developed.  Mom says that there were three developers.  One believed in clear-cutting.  The other believed in the landfill method of creating more land, land that eventually landed in the basements of the Knolls Road residences.  The only exception was our house.  When the town planner asked Mom why our house was affected, she said, “That’s because I saw what was happening and built a retaining wall.”  Actually, it happened once, and she and my brother had to shovel out the basement.  That was enough for Mom (boy, was she angry).

In any case, to appease the natives of Bloomingdale worried about how the town’s one and only school was going to handle this influx of students, the developer built a school – the Martha B. Day school.  Even he didn’t plan for the number of families, and within five years, they had to bring in mobile home trailers.  (The architect also forgot to make room for a library, which wound up in a janitor’s closet).  Those residents were lucky people like my Mom and Dad came along, because about 15 years later, the Butler Rubber Factory closed down (the rubber works had burned down in the 1950s), and many of those native residents were put out of work.


Finally, remember Bloomingdale’s 1960 residents when you’re protesting this development.  They weren’t any happier to see us, than Bloomingdale’s current residents will be to see these future apartment-dwellers.  Bloomingdale has gotten off relatively easy in terms of new housing development, compared with other towns such as Riverdale, West Milford, or Wayne.  Wayne and West Milford are now saddled with huge McMansions that their owners can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on, much less the taxes.

The real worry here is whether, with this development, that Bloomingdale has crossed the renter’s line that will qualify it for “urban renewal development.”  This is not a good thing.  The residents who came to Bloomingdale in 1960 were working class people who could generally afford to pay their bills.  Avalon Bay’s residents won’t be paying taxes, whether they’re wealthy luxury residents or COAH inhabitants.  With their coming, more of that sort of people will come to town, rather than the industrious, fiscally-responsible residents Bloomingdale has been used to these 50 years. 

If Bloomingdale’s mayor, town council, and yes, residents, had been better informed, they would have realized that suburban towns cannot live on Stimulus carrots alone.  The government intends to put it on a permanent, vegetarian diet of carrots, along with the rest of New Jersey’s suburban towns.  Their autonomy will be lost, reduced to villages like those in Hempstead, Long Island, answering to a sole city like Newark, or some say, New York City itself.

Bloomingdale was once home to pig farms.  In this unfortunate piece of its history (after the iron works of the Colonial period), Bloomingdale came to be known as “Pig Town.”  If Bloomingdale and its surrounding neighbors cannot hold out against regionalization, all of Northern New Jersey will become one, enormous Pig City.



Anonymous Meredith said...

I haven't read the article in the Trends yet, but I notice on Patch there is no mention of your comments. I spoke to the council about Agenda 21 and how it relates to the NJ Redevelopment Plan and the Patch never made mention of it either. Seems they don't want the public to know about Agenda 21.

3:20 PM  

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