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Land parcels remain on selling block

Photo by Anthony J. Machcinski/ View of Porete Ave properties as seen from the ridge above, looking east.

By Chris Neidenberg

NORTH ARLINGTON - Two potentially lucrative parcels located off of Porete Ave.
continue to wait for buyers after the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) failed to sell them.
The properties – totaling over 71 acres – will hopefully be turned into ratable plots for the borough.
In fact, a municipal development report describes the former Bethlehem Steel and old Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA) sites as key properties that could promote “the effective non-residential use of all the redevelopment area property, and to increase the property tax base. We had put them up for bid for a time last month but there were no parties interested in acquiring them,” NJMC spokesman Brian Aberback told The Observer, noting that had the properties been sold, North Arlington would
have had to approve any development plans.
Though NJMC negotiated receipt of the sites from the former owner, Aberback noted that they fall outside of the commission›s defined zone of jurisdiction.
He declined to elaborate or speculate on why there were no takers, saying only, “The commission is analyzing what its options are at this point.”
Previously, the NJMC negotiated to obtain the large properties from Cherokee Investment Partners, parent company of the now-defunct Encap Golf Holdings. The latter once proposed a massive residential development for the area, known in the borough as “Arlington Valley,” and extending into Lyndhurst and Rutherford. The plan also included entertainment and recreational uses, including a golf course. Yet, it fizzled due to various problems and was eventually scuttled.
In North Arlington, it prompted the borough to negotiate a settlement of its liabilities in the matter. Previously, the NJMC agreed to take ownership of the two major North Arlington parcels from Cherokee.
During the Encap controversy, borough officials refused to invoke eminent domain to force existing businesses off Porete Ave. to surrender their properties so the “Arlington
Valley” initiative could proceed.
With the collapse of Encap, the Borough Council opted to support the addition of new light industrial uses in the region, with the two larger sites serving as the anchor and the municipality›s biggest assets.
According to North Arlington’s Amended Redevelopment Plan, prepared by Heyer, Gruel and Associates of Red Bank, “The plan envisions the properties to create a regional light industrial area, encouraging infill development and rehabilitation of the
existing industrial buildings and lots on Porete Ave.”
The report continues, “The proposed concept for the Bethlehem Steel and BCUA sites envisions an attractive campus setting with landscaped buffers that will not detract from the views of the New York skyline from the residents on the ridge.”
The report describes the former Bethlehem Steel site encompassing approximately
41.2 acres and containing only a pumping station in the southern section.
It characterizes the old BCUA tract as comprising roughly 30 acres and being “irregular in shape,” with frontage along Schuyler Ave.
It contains the former BCUA transfer station, non-operational since 2002, as well as
the James Zadroga Soccer Field. The station is approximately 35-feet-tall with 166,000 sq. ft. of floor space.
Neither Mayor Peter Massa nor Councilman Joseph Bianchi, both of whom serve on
the borough Planning Board, could be reached. But Councilman Steve Tanelli said he
was “disappointed that the Meadowlands Commission could not find buyers and we
need to see why. For example, do they have a valid marketing plan to try attracting
interest?”

Photo by Anthony J. Machcinski/ A view of part of North Arlington parcels that the NJMC tried, unsuccessfully, to sell.

In a telephone interview, Planning Board Chairman David Chamrowsky noted that,
after the Amended Redevelopment Plan was published, a board majority recommended a totally different type of use which the borough’s governing body has rejected, opting instead to stick with the light industrial approach.
The board subsequently voted to recommend rezoning the area for retail-type use,
featuring a “Clifton Commons’- type development,” he explained. “It would contain
businesses of the nature of a Sam’s Club, Costco and Home Depot, but the mayor and
council oppose it.”
Asked why this alternative was proposed, Chamrowsky replied, “Because the members
who voted for it felt it could generate more tax revenues than a light industrial use.
Thom Ammirato, spokesman for the mayor and council, said local elected officials
feel the site does not have good access for a major retail complex.
While Clifton Commons sits right off Rt. 3, a major state highway, that’s not the case in this location, Ammirato said. “It is not easily visible and the council feels that’s a
problem.”
Further, in terms of erecting “big box developments” like a Home Depot, Ammirato said the mayor and council do not believe tax revenue would be substantially improved.
You need to maximize your ratables and the mayor and council feel there’s a better
chance to do that with light industrial uses,” he explained. “If you put in a Home Depot, you are going to have to also include a large parking lot.”

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