By Ron Leir
A firm known to locals has been picked to build on the vacant Roche pharmaceuticals property in Belleville but, beyond that, little is known on what the future holds for the site.
On Dec. 10, Mayor Raymond Kimble and the Belleville Township Council voted unanimously to designate David A. Mack Properties LLC of Southport, Conn., as redeveloper of the 18-acre Roche Diagnostic tract, fronting on Franklin Ave. and just north of Clara Maass Medical Center.
Kimble said the Mack real estate company – which previously built the strip mall in the township’s Silver Lake area, at Franklin St. and Bloomfield Ave. – has developed retail, commercial and residential properties.
Joe Burdette, a Florida attorney who has represented Mack in connection with Sunshine State projects, said that his former client has partnered with other companies in developing the 250-room Sandpearl Resort & Spa and 202-unit Belle Harbor condominiums, both in Clearwater.
“Dave’s a fine human being,” said Burdette, “which, in the kind of business he’s in, is hard to find. He’s as good as it gets.”
About a year ago, the Belleville Planning Board recommended that the township designate the property as an area in need of redevelopment and in July 2013 the governing body adopted a redevelopment plan for the site which set out conceptual uses such as medical offices, medical research, related health uses and housing – but excluding hospitals and ambulatory care centers at the request of neighboring Clara Maass.
In selecting the Mack firm, the township resolution noted, “the Governing Body of the Township of Belleville has elected to serve as the Redevelopment Entity responsible for the implementation of the Redevelopment Plan and carrying out the Redevelopment Project contemplated therein,” rather than soliciting proposals from prospective developers.
Although the property remains in Roche’s hands, the resolution says that the township “has engaged with the owner in negotiations relating to the possible transfer of title … to the township and the resolution of property tax issues and environmental remediation issues.”
Because the property was previously occupied by a copper mill and, later, a soap factory, before Roche took possession, the site will require an environmental cleanup “and [Roche] and David A. Mack Properties LLC have engaged in preliminary discussions [on that matter] …,” the resolution says.
And, as a result of those discussions, the resolution says that Roche “believes that [Mack] would be an acceptable redeveloper of the property, capable of adhering to the Redevelopment Plan and providing acceptable assurances to both Roche and the Township that both current necessary remediation and downstream environmental liability would be appropriately addressed by [Mack] including … an NJDEP approved transfer and assumption of environmental liability agreement ….”
Now, the resolution says, Belleville and Mack have 90 days to negotiate a redeveloper agreement.
Belleville officials have offered no clues what the developer has in mind for the property although one council member said that it’s unlikely the land would be used for residential purposes.
Asked when he expected the property to be conveyed to the township, Kimble said: “We’re still in the waiting process with Roche. We know they’re comfortable with the developer we’ve named.”
Roche Diagnostic spokesman Bob Purcell would offer no further details on what will be happening with the property.
Meanwhile, in other infrastructure news, the governing body last Tuesday voted to introduce a bond ordinance that would, among other things, appropriate $643,000 to replace 90 street lights on Washington Ave., the township’s main shopping district, between Greylock Parkway and Mill St., as part of the long-planned streetscape improvement.
The new lantern-style lights will be designed to be fitted with an “arm” that will illuminate sidewalks and will put out three times the light now being provided by the existing street lights, according to Councilman Michael Nicosia.
The bond money will also pay for engineer costs associated with the project and for what Nicosia described as a “3D” computer mapping of the area, showing the layers of street, curbs, buildings, etc., so that if and when plans for future development are filed, it will be easier to ensure compliance with mandated design criteria.
Nicosia said the street light upgrade was among a series of recommendations contained in a state Dept. of Transportation safety audit of Washington Ave., which is part of the State Highway Rt. 7 network which the state plans to repave. The multi-year, multi-million dollar paving project will run from Belleville, through Kearny, into Jersey City, he said.
“The state’s responsibility is curb-to-curb,” Nicosia said, “so they’ll be taking care of upgrading synchronized traffic lights, sidewalk corner handicapped ramps – things like that.” He said the township has applied for a $5 million grant to redo sidewalks and curbs in certain areas.
The bond ordinance, which will come up for a public hearing next month, will also provide $143,000 to complete the new Friendly House recreation facility by installing a parking lot and acquiring limited recreational equipment and $225,000 for the rehabilitation of the currently vacated Silver Lake firehouse “to get it habitable,” Nicosia said. The Franklin St. structure has been compromised by a leaky roof and environmental issues.