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New agency: Will it help or hinder?

Photo by Ron Leir/ Jim Dandy’s may give way to a 7-Eleven.

 

By Ron Leir

NORTH ARLINGTON –
There could be a redevelopment agency in this community’s near future.
By a 4-to-2 vote last Thursday night – with Republicans in the majority and Dems opposed – the Borough Council approved a resolution asking the state Department of Community Affairs to certify the borough’s intent to revive the regulatory entity.
There was no discussion about the body’s powers or duties, nor did the council talk
about how it would be formed or staffed.
The Republicans feel that a redevelopment agency could more efficiently evaluate applications for new projects instead of unduly burdening the planning or zoning boards, while the Democrats believe it would simply add another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.
Mayor Peter Massa said the resolution seeking DCA certifi cation “accomplished nothing” but opening the door to “abdicating the power of the mayor and council to a bunch of political appointees.”
“What’s wrong with having our elected officials manage redevelopment in the borough without outsourcing it to people with political ties?” Massa said. “I’m accountable [to the voters] and that’s the way it should be.”
But borough spokesman Tom Ammirato said the council majority’s thinking was that the analysis of redevelopment proposals would be “too much work for the mayor and council” and that such work should be left in the hands of a redevelopment agency board composed of people “with backgrounds in finance, construction and development.”
Still, in any case, Ammirato said, “final authority (to contract with a prospective redeveloper) would rest with the mayor and council – we’re not ceding our responsibility to anyone else.”
Ammirato said the council majority’s action is motivated by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s getting ready to sell the old Bergen County Utilities Authority baler site and the former Bethlehem Steel property – both North Arlington locations and both previously owned by the now-bankrupt EnCap – and by the fact that prospective builders have voiced interest in those properties.
“We want to have redevelopment professionals and members of the community to guide the redevelopment process in accordance with the borough’s redevelopment plan that was approved last year,” Ammirato said.
As envisioned by the council majority, Ammirato said the only paid staff for the new agency would be “a planning person and a redevelopment attorney, but there would be no executive director.”
He said the borough would look to its planning consultants, Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank, to help with the structuring of the agency.
Appointments to a redevelopment agency board would be made by the Borough Council, he said.
A pre-existing redevelopment agency was abolished by the council in 2005 after about a decade of operation. The agency hired a bond counsel for negotiations with a prospective Meadows developer but nothing resulted from it.
In other business, Borough Attorney Randy Pearce informed the governing body that the borough’s challenge of an arbitrator’s police contract award on the basis of mistaken assumptions about the police chief’s contract was turned aside.
The state Public Employment Relations Commission had referred the borough’s complaint to the arbitrator who said that the borough had placed too much emphasis on the chief’s contract but that still did not change his opinion on the overall police contract.
Now the borough will have to decide if it wants to go further and file an appeal with the state Appellate Division.
The governing body also heard a presentation by Bergen County Parks Director Ron Kistner on promised improvements to Riverside Park. The county plans a $5 million renovation of the section of the park used by North Arlington, including a new drainage system, new bathroom and improved walkways, repairs to softball fields, a new baseball diamond and two new soccer fields. Kistner said the county plans to take bids for the project this fall and have the work completed by spring 2012.
In other business, the Borough Council voted for the introduction of an ordinance to regulate hours of operation of Ridge Road businesses, requiring them to be shut between midnight and 5 a.m., with bars exempted.
Massa said the borough previously had a law on the books that enforced that regulation but when the council implemented its redevelopment code a few years ago, the regulation on business hours was inadvertently dropped “so this ordinance will correct that oversight.”
In another business-related development, the mayor and council learned about plans for a new 7-Eleven store on the site of the Jim Dandy’s at 448 Ridge Road, at the corner of Noel Drive.
Gary Bennett, a Kearny attorney representing the owners of the property (the Greuter family), said the 7-Eleven Corp. wants to demolish the existing restaurant and put up a two-level brick building with a retail shop on the ground floor and offices and storage space upstairs.
If the governing body approves the concept, Bennett said the next step would be filing an application for site plan review with the Planning Board.
Bennett said the area would be enhanced by “bringing in an international company with a lot of stability into part of the borough’s redevelopment zone.”
About a year ago, a McDonald’s was proposed for the same site but that project never materialized.

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