Koppers, NJ Transit perfect together: HCIA

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

NJ Transit may be giving Kearny the silent treatment on its plans to install a reserve generator in South Kearny but that’s not been the case with the agency’s dealings with the Hudson County Improvement Authority.

The HCIA, which owns the 138-acre former Koppers Coke site straddling the Hackensack River in South Kearny and continues to negotiate with The Morris Companies to redevelop the site, has learned that NJ Transit proposes to use “up to 26 acres” in the central portion of the Koppers site.

So says Norman Guerra, executive director of the HCIA, who is upbeat about the prospects for successfully concluding the talks with Morris which began about six months ago with a deal to sell the property – and, at the same time, accommodate NJ Transit’s needs.

Ultimately, said Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos, the transit agency will have to come before either the town’s Zoning or Planning Board for the requisite land use approvals needed before it could proceed with its “micro-grid” that would be used as a backup power system for its trains. Such will be the scenario, Santos said, unless the state legislature approves a newly introduced amendment to the bill merging the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority with the N.J. Meadowlands Commission – an amendment that would exempt the builders of power distribution plants from having to get local land use sign-offs.

Up until last year, Kearny, which owns the old 25-acre Standard Chlorine parcel, teamed with the HCIA and Tierra Solutions, which owns a 30-acre parcel in the area, in an effort to collectively market three separately-owned properties in what has been designated by the NJMC as the Koppers Coke Peninsula Redevelopment Area, ideally, as one package to enhance the land’s prospective value to a redeveloper and Santos fretted that NJ Transit’s positioning itself to acquire a piece of the pie could deter potential investors in the overall site. And, he noted, whatever land NJ Transit ends up acquiring will be tax- exempt so Kearny will derive no future revenues from that venture.

Since then, the HCIA opted to go its own way and signed a tentative agreement with the Rutherford-based Morris Companies – which boasts a “combined portfolio of industrial, retail and office properties” totaling more than 6 million square feet spread over New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida – to redevelop the Koppers site.

That left Kearny on its own and the town began talks with another potential redeveloper, a possible joint venture by Matrix Development Group of Monroe Township and Clean Earth of North Jersey, for its own deal. Those negotiations are continuing, Santos said.

Terms of the HCIA/Morris agreement are still being hashed out by the lawyers, Guerra said last week, “but we’re getting very close to executing a sales agreement which we hope to finish in four to six weeks.”

If that happens, Guerra said that Morris has projected close to 2 million square feet of warehousing space being built for which no tenants have yet been identified. He said the HCIA will provide an additional access road at the site’s western end and is considering another at the eastern end.

He said the HCIA is still in the process of raising the site to a 13-foot elevation out of the flood zone and related environmental work such as “engineering for a slurry wall and raising monitoring wells.”

Asked whether future construction by NJ Transit could interfere with Morris’s work, Guerra said, “No, there’s a lot of planning involved so one project isn’t going to hold up the other.”

Meanwhile, Kearny, Lyndhurst and North Arlington, whose meadows development projects have had to pass NJMC review since the commission’s creation by the legislature in 1969, are waiting to see how things will play out under the merger with the NJSEA.

Already, the bill’s replacement of the NJMC tax-sharing formula with a 3% hotel tax has irked North Arlington Mayor Joseph Bianchi, who griped, “We took a $150,000 hit,” dropping from about $1 million to about $812,500, which, he said, would “raise taxes two points” – meaning that it could cost the borough’s average homeowner about $100 more this year.

Bianchi also complained about the NJSEA’s abrupt closing of its IZOD C enter and the laying off of, reportedly, 1,700 people. “You can say that the mayor of North Arlington is not happy and the state never came to the town fathers of the communities in the region to tell us what they were going to do. This was just a sneak attack.”

Borough Councilman Al Granell joined in the mayor’s grievance, calling the state’s action “unacceptable” and added that he will urge the council to petition the state to reverse the reduction in inter-local aid. He also faulted the state for keeping the region “in the dark” about the IZOD closure.

Lyndhurst, which had been paying about $860,000 into the taxsharing fund, will no longer have to do that while Kearny will continue to receive about $3.8 million, plus about $1.3 million from the leasing of the Keegan landfill and about $100,000 for the use of land for the baler scales.

Under the merger bill, the newly created Meadowlands Regional Commission will be run by the NJSEA board of directors plus one mayor from the 14-town meadows district to be appointed by the governor.

Asked what will happen to the NJMC’s 99 employees and $6.5 million payroll, topped by executive director Marcia Karrow and her $148,000 salary, and its $30 million annual budget, NJMC spokesman Brian Aberback said: “Effective Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, the NJMC was made a part of the NJSEA. There will be no interruption in the services provided to the public and the regulated community. All staff contacts remain the same. We encourage you to continue to check our website for updates.”

The Observer Staff