Delays foreseen in Roche transition

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


A mixed-use development consisting of light industry, offices, a bio-tech campus, hotel and residential units – all in varying combinations – is being pitched as a conceptual scenario for redeveloping the 118-acre Roche property straddling Nutley and Clifton.

The plan, devised by Perkins Eastman, an international planning and design consultant, and the Princeton- based RESGroup, which provides real estate advisory services, was released late last month by the Joint Repurposing Committee (JRC), consisting of representatives of both communities working with Roche to devise the optimal way to transition the site.

Ultimately, Roche – as the owner of the property – will have final say on the ultimate buyer(s) but wants to work with Nutley and Clifton on achieving the best use or uses for the property.

To that end, the consultants’ plan recommends that the two municipalities consider creating a “Special Zoning District” targeting their respective portions of the Roche campus to accommodate the proposed land uses for the site.

“The Special Zoning District will need to be flexible enough to allow for market demand to be accommodated for each identified proposed use, Light Industrial and Manufacturing, Bio Tech Research, Commercial Office and Continuous Care Retirement Community,” the consultants advise. “The zoning will also have to be specifically developed to limit the types of retail and residential development based upon the municipalities’ requirements.”

Potential impacts on existing retail establishments and on residential density and on public school facilities could be factors that local officials would weigh in their deliberations on the project.

Charts courtesy Perkins Eastman report prepared for Joint Repurposing Committee
Charts courtesy Perkins Eastman report prepared for Joint Repurposing Committee

Both Clifton and Nutley face time pressures in deciding how, if at all, to tweak local zoning regulations to conform to the parameters of the Roche consultants’ planning options.

“The goal of each community should be to have this zoning legislation in place by June 2014 to coincide with Roche site divestiture,” the consultants suggest.

Darien Wilson, a spokeswoman for Roche, which describes itself as the world’s largest bio-tech company, said the Switzerland-headquartered firm is in the process of working with a broker to begin marketing the site by “later this month or by early March, to qualify developers, with a goal of selling the site next year.”

“We hope the developer will take the towns’ preferences into consideration,” Wilson said.

But that deference may not be easy to come by, the consultants infer. As presented, the conceptual plan scenarios are “generally acceptable” to Clifton and Nutley, they say. But, they add, “Because of the selective constraints identified by each community none of these development scenarios reflect what current market demands suggest. Specifically, the constraint restricting general retail development along Route 3 and the constraint eliminating any type of housing in Clifton and limiting housing in Nutley to age restricted and high end condos development will eliminate a portion of development potential.

“The immediate result is that each of the development scenarios will take longer to develop. How much longer is unknown and is dependent upon future market conditions.” Based on current projections, any of the proposed development options could take anywhere from 15 to 25 years to play out, the consultants say.

A statement issued by the JRC said that the common goal of both communities is “to repurpose the site in a way that maximizes tax revenues and local property values” though a development plan “that has a positive effect on the quality of life of their residents, supports business development, and create high-paying jobs, while at the same time manages any impact on the local school system and municipal infrastructure.”

Roche currently accounts for about $9 million in annual property taxes to Nutley’s coffers and, until new development takes place, the township will be hard-pressed to make up that loss without having to hike local taxes, officials say.

Proposals common to the three development options include:

• Making First Ave., which runs through both communities, “the Address” and hub of the new community with 48,000 to 90,000 square feet of retail shops along the street.

• Maximizing points of entry to the site, “including a major access point from Bloomfield Ave.” Traffic signalization would be installed at the Bloomfield Ave. intersection with “secondary entries” from Kingsland St.

• Bringing public bus transportation through the site and enhancing commuter bus service from the site at Rt. 3 to NYC, Hoboken and Jersey City.

• Creating a “necklace of interconnected greenways,” with neighborhood parks, and bringing Springer Brook “back to the surface.”

Beyond that, the three development options project, for the Nutley portion of the Roche property, these components: 150,000 square feet of light industrial space; 260,000 to 550,640 square feet of existing Roche buildings for office space; 341,770 square feet of existing buildings for bio-tech/Research & Development space; 80,000 to 218,400 square feet of new buildings for bio-tech/R&D; 530 to 613 units of new residential buildings; and 312 units of Continuing Care Retirement Communities.

Between 93 and 137 public school students are expected to be generated by the project from the occupants of rental and live/work condomium units for the entire site. No breakdown by community was provided.

The project, at full buildout, could produce anywhere from $12.4 million to $13.9 million in property tax revenues for Nutley, the consultants estimated.

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