By Ron Leir
Another New Jersey property owned by the pharmaceutical giant Roche Co. is up for grabs.
Roche, which is in the process of phasing out its primary location straddling Nutley and Clifton, will also be disposing of its now-vacant site in Belleville.
And, as a step towards attracting a potential redeveloper, the Belleville Planning Board voted Oct. 11 to declare the 18.7-acre tract – bordered by Franklin Ave. to the southeast, by Mill St. to the northeast, by Montgomery Place to the north and by Clara Maass Medical Center to the west – as an “area in need of redevelopment.”
The township and Roche are currently in negotiations over how the property should be transitioned, Township Manager Kevin Esposito said.
John Madden, the township’s planning consultant, is in the process of drafting a conceptual redevelopment plan for the site, which sits across from Branchbrook Park. The rear of the property abuts the backyards of some 13 homes.
During the past year, Madden said, Roche demolished one of its buildings there, leaving the site empty, except for “a lot of mature trees” and some contamination found in an area closest to the property’s Mill Street border.
Madden said that an environmental consultant hired by Roche found that “80 to 90 percent” of the property was, essentially, clean – a finding in which the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) concurred.
Pollutants discovered in the soil – identified by the consultant as PCBs and heavy metals – and in the groundwater – listed as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, arsenic – were traced to an old copper mill that operated on part of the Roche site from 1813 to 1936.
Roche and the township are discussing how to approach remediation of the site but no further details could be learned about that at press time.
Township tax records show that the assessed valuation of the land declined from about $17 million in 2010 to $11.2 million in 2012, with annual real estate taxes dropping, accordingly, from $520,000 to $364,000 over the same period.
“It’s our intention to work hand-in-hand with Roche” to map out the property’s future, said Township Councilman Michael Nicosia. One possibility being talked about, he said, is bringing in a redeveloper who would also pay for the cleanup.
While the current zoning for the site does permit multi-family housing, Madden and Nicosia said it’s very unlikely the township would want to go in that direction. Since the property is so close to the hospital, Madden suggested that medical offices or “medical-related uses” would be a more appropriate way to go.
Once the redevelopment study is completed – which Madden figures will happen “by November or December” – it would go before the township governing body for its consideration.
Designating the property as an area in need of redevelopment “gives the township more flexibility on putting any types of limitations or controls over how it is to be developed,” Madden said.
Meanwhile, in other real estate happenings, the township has broken ground for the new Friendly House recreation facility. “The footings are in and steel is on the site (between Florence Avenue and Frederick Street) and my intention is, for this and any future capital projects, to have regular job meetings to handle any questions or problems about construction on a weekly basis or at least once every two weeks.”
Nicosia said the mayor and council are aiming for recreation as the building’s “primary use,” with kids programs taking place for an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon and then opening the facility to the general public at other times on a “for fee” basis, similar to the protocol for events held at the township Recreation Center on Joralemon Street