By Ron Leir
Kearny – with some assistance from other public agencies – is looking to throw its meadows “eggs” into one “basket” to maximize their ratable potential and the slow maturation process is about to take another step to eventually hatching.
In late October, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) accepted a recommendation by the town to designate 74 underutilized and abandoned properties spread among a 357-acre tract known as the Koppers Coke Peninsula as an “area in need of redevelopment.”
The area is bordered by the Hackensack River to the north and east, including properties on Cross Pike Drive and Fish House Road, Rt. 7 (the Belleville Turnpike) to the south and the Kearny Brackish Marsh to the west.
Early next month, according to Mayor Alberto Santos, the word is that the NJMC – which has zoning jurisdiction over that land – is poised to hold a public hearing on a newly completed conceptual redevelopment plan with recommended permitted uses for the tract.
Among the 74 properties in the peninsula are the 170- acre Kopper’s Coke site (of which nearly 140 acres are “buildable”), owned by the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA); the 25- acre Standard Chlorine site, owned by Kearny; and the 27-acre Diamond Shamrock site, owned by Tierra Solutions. All are environmentally compromised and in varying stages of remediation.
Last year, the HCIA had solicited – and received – Requests For Proposals from prospective redevelopers for the Kopper’s property, formerly occupied by the Koppers Seaboard Coke and By-Products plant from 1917 to 1974. Resource recovery plants, solar farms and refrigerated warehousing were pitched by prospective redevelopers.
But the HCIA never acted on the proposals.
Acting on the belief that it made more sense – from a marketing and ratables standpoint – to assemble the three properties as one package, Santos said Kearny pitched the idea to the two other property owners who, he said, went along.
“And the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission agreed with us,” Santos said.
And so, in October, the NJMC found that the three contiguous properties met sufficient criteria for declaring them as an area in need of redevelopment.
Now, Santos said, the owners are awaiting the NJMC’s redevelopment plan for the area which Santos said he’s hoping will propose such uses for the properties as “warehousing, manufacturing and possibly retail.”
Once that redevelopment plan is adopted, Santos said that Kearny and the owners of the two other properties “have agreed on going with a joint RFP (Request For Proposals) for the more than 200 acres – which will be the largest parcel offered for development in the state.”
Asked if that meant there would be a move to consolidate ownership of the individual parcels into one large property, Santos said: “No, we would still keep separate ownerships.” And owners would look to derive whatever profits may come from future sales or leases, he added.
If the redevelopment plan goes according to the mayor’s expectations, Santos said he’s “hoping for 1 million square feet of Class A warehousing development” as a possible outcome.
Asked to project a ratable figure from the project, however, Santos said: “There are too many unknowns at this point to make revenue assumptions.”
HCIA Executive Director Norman Guerra said he agreed with the mayor’s strategic thinking on packaging the Koppers site with Diamond Shamrock and Standard Chlorine. “Everyone realizes that with the other two, that can attract bigger players.”
To that end, Guerra said the HCIA plans to proceed with a joint RFP early next month, even before the NJMC adopts its redevelopment plan for the peninsula. “We plan to be out on the street with an RFP the first week of January and we’ll attach a draft plan for the area (that calls for) mostly industrial, warehousing (as permitted uses),” he added.
Santos said that the town has already “been approached by (prospective) warehouse developers” such as the Rockefeller Group of Mt. Olive and the Morris Group of Rutherford, both of whom responded to a prior RFP issued by the HCIA.
Still unclear is how soon these properties would be declared environmentally clean before any development activity could begin, particularly for Standard Chlorine, which, Santos noted, because of its designation as a Superfund site, could be “two to three years” away from final clearance by regulatory agencies.
When that hurdle is overcome, Santos said, developers should find the location attractive since “it’s only eight miles from Manhattan, and, with the state building a new Wittpenn (Rt. 7) Bridge and revamping the Charlotte Circle in Jersey City, there will be quick access to Port Newark via Rt. 1&9 and the Turnpike.”
Although the land is in South Kearny, which has been vulnerable to flooding conditions, Santos said that the HCIA has been raising the elevation of the Koppers site since acquiring the property from Hudson County.