Next step awaited for Belmont Ave.

BELLEVILLE

The Belleville Planning Board voted last Thursday, July 13, to recommend that a tract in the Silver Lake section be designated as an “area in need of redevelopment.”

Now the matter goes to the township mayor and council for their consideration and, if the governing body gives its consent, it will likely lead to the pitching of a redevelopment plan by a prospective developer. 

Local attorney Robert Gaccione, representing an interested party proposing the designation for the property at 81-179 Belmont Ave., containing the 55,000-square-foot Super Fresh supermarket and a huge parking lot, bordered by an N.J. Transit station, identified his clients as BOIV Belleville MCB, LLC.

Daniel A. Shabel, portfolio manager for MCB Real Estate LLC of Mt. Laurel and Baltimore, said MCB was part of a “joint venture” with Black Oak Associates Inc. of Towson, Md., whose project manager Ray Kell appeared for that firm last week.

Shabel said the joint venture, which has acquired the Belmont Ave. site, hasn’t yet committed to future plans for the property.

“That’s still in the planning stages,” he said.

If and when such a plan materializes, it would reportedly be the first project undertaken by this partnership.

MCB, according to its website, is a “privately held, institutionally capitalized commercial real estate investment firm that acquires, develops, manages and capitalizes assets in retail, industrial, office and mixed-use sectors.” It says the firm currently owns and operates 6 million square feet of commercial real estate.

Black Oak’s website describes that company as an “integrated property, development/redevelopment and investment management company in the mid-Atlantic region with approximately 2 million square feet currently owned and managed. … Since 2010, Block Oak acquired six grocery-anchored shopping centers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina totaling over 500,000 square feet.”

The team’s reluctance to reveal what it intends for the Belleville site notwithstanding, township officials have previously hinted at some type of residential construction.

And that notion seemed to gain credence from comments delivered during the Planning Board session by Don Meisel of CME Associates, consulting municipal engineers, retained by the board to research the status of the Belmont Ave. site.

After advising the board it appeared that the property would meet several criteria to be declared an area in need of redevelopment, particularly being “not fully productive,” given the property’s “age and obsolescence,” coupled with evidence of groundwater contamination from “petroleum hydrocarbons” and “historic fill,” Meisel said, “the owners will have to be held to pretty high standards if they want to put in residential development.”

A bit later, Meisel mentioned that one possible scenario for a prospective residential project there could see “25 [residential] units per acre,” which, he said, could translate to a total of about 225 units on the 9.5-acre Belmont Ave. site.

Expect a building height limited to between 40 and 50 feet, with studios, one- , two- and some three-bedroom apartments, he added. 

The talk about housing prompted reservations voiced by board member Andrew Conte, who recalled the presence of chemical “test pits” that handled discharges from the old Edison battery plant that operated until 1970 on or near of the Belmont Ave. property. 

And board member Arlene Schor echoed that concern, saying that those chemical “settling ponds” reportedly contained such toxic chemicals like carbolic acid, mercury, arsenic, zinc, manganese and others and that “sewers were created in Silver Lake to drain” those products that came from the old plant.

“I’m sympathetic to development here,” said Schor, “but not for residential or educational [use].” Mercury, while it may be treated for remediation, “doesn’t go away,” she said.

Meisel countered that, whatever the prospective redeveloper’s intent, “Nothing is going to happen on the site until the LSRP (Licensed State Remediation Professional) completes his investigation. There’s a lot to do.”

And board chairman Raymond Veniero said: “We know [the property] is contaminated. That’s why we’d like to see it designated as an area in need of redevelopment. We want to see it cleaned up.” But, he added, “At this point, there’s no development plan. Nobody on this board has seen one.”

Resident Vincent Frantantoni interjected that any discussion of a redevelopment plan was improper unless and until such point that such a plan may surface but that if such a plan were to be considered, and housing is proposed, it would be misguided because the region is already “overbuilt.”

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.