By Ron Leir
As a gateway approach to Kearny, it’s an embarrassing “eyesore,” as one Planning Board member puts it.
Environmentally compromised, more like a junkyard than anything else, with a torn-up roadway running through it – that’s how a town consultant describes Jeryl Industrial Park (the former Turco property) and adjacent fenced-in vacant tract owned by Tierra Solutions of East Brunswick.
What to do?
After hearing a report on the property from Red Bank planning consultant Susan Gruel, the Kearny Planning Board voted unanimously last Wednesday night to recommend the designation of the 31-acre tract as “an area in need of redevelopment.”
If the Town Council agrees, it will weigh in with a conceptual redevelopment plan that will lay out permitted land uses and standards for the tract with Schuyler Ave., Belleville Turnpike, Sellers St. and the Conrail track as its rough borders.
In her report to the town’s planning commissioners, Gruel said the study area meets at least one – if not more – of the various statutory criteria to qualify as a potential redevelopment area because it contains structures and conditions “which are detrimental to the safety and health of the community.”
“This is a dilapidated, deteriorated area with a signifi cant number of vacant buildings and outdoor storage,” Gruel said. And the property has had “persistent fi re and building code violations over the years.”
Gruel said the private road, Turvan St., that snakes through the site, between Schuyler and the Pike, is in horrible shape: “Its asphalt is crumbling, it has large gaping holes, ponding and stagnant water – there’s no type of stormwater management, no curbing.”
Gruel said the site is marked by “haphazard parking, outdoor debris and abandoned vehicles and parts of vehicles, no drainage.”
The property’s code violations have prevented the town from issuing certifi cates of occupancy to prospective tenants, she said.
To make things even worse, she said, the site has a “long history of environmental contamination – chromium – for which Tierra Solutions is the responsible party for cleanup of Lots 9 to 13 which have been designated a (federal) Superfund site.”
This last point, however, was disputed by Enrique Castro, remediation manager for Tierra Solutions, who said that the state Department of Environmental Protection has classifi ed Lots 9 to 13 “only as one of the chromium sites in Hudson County.” Castro said that “isolated” portions of the Jeryl site – portions of Buildings 8, 20 and 26 and the outside of Building 10 – are impacted by chromium as well. He said high levels of hexavalent and trivalent chromium were present.
Both of the sites, he said, “are in the remedial investigation phase.” He said that “interim remedial measures” have been taken by Tierra (which purchased the property from Sunoco during 2006-2007) but “we haven’t made a remedial action proposal yet.” When that will happen “will depend on the pace of (our) study,” he said. It could be several years in the making, he added.
And Jeryl president Howard G. Wachenfeld, a Newark attorney, took exception to part of Gruel’s description of the site. “Well more than 50% of the buildings are occupied,” he said. And, he added, “most of those vehicles are put inside at night.”
Nonetheless, Gruel said that based on her “visual inspections from the outside,” it seemed to her that the property was “defi nitely underutilized,” with “some scattered businesses.”
Despite the awful conditions Gruel listed, West Orange attorney Peter Tanella told the Planning Board that he represented clients (whom he didn’t identify) “currently in negotiations to purchase the (Jeryl) property and redevelop the property and rehabilitate the private road.” He didn’t say what the clients intended to do with the land. They “haven’t done their due diligence,” he said.
Mayor Alberto Santos, who sits on the Planning Board, said: “It’s very clear the structures (on the site) are dilapidated, underused, with much debris, abandoned vehicles, the (interior) road is in bad shape and the property is not at its best possible use. I believe the area meets the criteria (for designation as an area in need of redevelopment).”
Board member James Capobianco agreed, adding that, “There has been no improvement, based on my recent inspection of the site. It’s gotten worse. It hurts our town, as a gateway to Kearny.” Board member Ann Farrell concurred, saying, “Nothing is being maintained.”
Some years ago, noted board member Lynn Schantz, “we had an application from (the property owners) that they were going to improve and that never happened.”
And board vice chairman James Doran, a retired Kearny firefighter, recalled that after the property was initially developed during the 1950s and 1960s, “it didn’t take much time to find serious water problems” to the extent that when he was still with the Fire Department, “we spent time taking people out of there on boats.”
After the board voted, Wachenfeld seemed upbeat about his property’s future. “We have people interested in buying it and doing what the town wants done,” he said. Asked what future use he saw for the property, Santos said he believed it was zoned for “mostly light industry and distribution facilities.”