By Ron Leir
In the near future, you can probably figure on a lot more bingo cards being given out at the Tuesday Club and the lines for bocce should be longer, too.
That’s the expectation of the regulars at the Belleville Senior Center who will, within a year or so, be welcoming new neighbors – residents of the township’s first senior citizen residential complex in the last 35 years being built by Mill St. Development Urban Renewal LLC.
Gov. Chris Christie joined Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Belleville Mayor Ray Kimble and a host of dignitaries and guests for a ceremonial groundbreaking last Wednesday, May 29, at the construction site near the intersection of Franklin and Mill Sts.
Christie assured residents that government bureaucrats would be “making sure this $18 million project happens on time and under budget.”
“This is a great thing for the senior citizens of Belleville,” the governor continued. “We need to provide affordable housing. People shouldn’t have to leave a place where you’ve lived your lives and raised your children. This project is and I felt there was no time to waste. We need to set an example in our state, how people can work across party lines. This project is an example of just that philosophy.”
Among those listening to the governor’s speech was Joseph Fornarotto, second vice president of the Belleville Senior Club, who recalled being part of a local initiative 25 years ago to establish a senior citizen residence. “We had the money to [build] here but politics got in the way,” he said. “At least 40% of the families in Belleville need this.”
Township Manager Kevin Esposito and Mayor Kimble said prospects for a senior building were renewed about six years ago when developer Paul Debellis of the Franklin Development Group approached the town about putting up rental apartments reserved for people ages 55 and above.
The Belleville Senior Center, at the front of the development tract, will remain in place but Esposito said the developer is looking to improve the asphalt parking area and relocate the club’s bocce court to the northwest corner of the tract and enclose it with a canopy.
Robert Ricciardi, the architect for the project, said that work would be done in two phases, with 86 apartments planned for the first stage and 51 for the second.
He said plans call for a combination of one- and twobedroom apartments that will likely rent for around $850 to $900 a month.
Ricciardi said that various efficiencies, such as gas-fired furnaces, will help make the project “affordable to rent and operate.” There will be key card access and on-site parking for 75 vehicles, he said. Also planned is a 4,000 square foot community room.
Esposito said the township would be collecting a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) amounting to 6% of the project’s gross receipts. He couldn’t estimate what the dollar value would be at this time.
“We expect to break ground in September and it should take a year and a half to complete,” Esposito said.
Construction and land costs are pegged at about $18 million, officials said.
The Essex County Executive’s Office listed the projected funding sources as follows: $6 million verbally committed by the state Community Development Block Grant program; $4.9 million sought from N.J. Housing Mortgage Financing Agency Low Income Housing Tax Credits; $1.69 million sought from Essex County HOME program; $1.4 million in developer equity; and $4.16 million sought from N.J. HMFA.
DiVincenzo said that although “the priority is going to be for [accepting] Belleville seniors, when you take money from various levels of government, you can’t stop people outside Belleville from coming in and using the facility [if they meet the eligibility criteria].”
Among those hoping to live in the new development is Janet Venturo, who has lived in Belleville nearly half a century. “It’s about time,” Venturo said of the new project. “My husband Jack and I have our own home but we’re going to apply for an apartment because we’re up in years. It’s time to let go.”