SOUTH TOMS RIVER – Borough officials are moving forward with a controversial proposal to redevelop the site of an uncapped landfill with the construction of an apartment complex, with residents and activists raising concerns about the project as it quickly moves forward.
In a 5-4 vote, the land use board of the “little town with a big heart” voted Monday night during a public hearing to add additional lots and move forward with a study on the property, paving the way for the project to come to fruition. Developer McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC also has an an application before the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.
Theresa Lettman, director of monitoring for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance attended the meeting along with residents and voiced her group’s opposition to the redevelopment plan. The alliance is a nonprofit group that advocates on environmental issues surrounding the Pine Barrens.
Legality Of Redevelopment Plan Questioned
Ms. Lettman told Ocean County Politics that South Toms River officials voted to include land in the Redevelopment Area that the Borough engineer indicated would be ineligible to be declared an area in need of redevelopment.
“The Land Use Board passed a resolution that Lots 1.01, 1.02 and 1.03 should be included in the Redevelopment Area along with 1.04 and 1.05,” Lettman said in an email Wednesday.
Previously the Borough Council voted to designate lots 1.04 and 1.05 as areas in need of development and hired Maser Consulting to prepare a report, which you can view here.
“They voted to include Lot 1.02, which are the ball fields, even though it doesn’t meet ANY of the criteria to designate it as an area in need of redevelopment. The Engineer also indicated that NONE of these 3 lots meet the criteria.”
The Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5 et seq. provides very strict guidelines with respect to municipalities declaring an area in need of redevelopment.
Environmental Concerns Raised
The company’s plan for redeveloping the site will see the construction of a 27 building townhouse apartment complex, with 314 total units to be built, with a landfill in between the two clusters of buildings.
“The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) has concerns because it would mean a diversion of the parkland that currently exists on the site,” said a statement released by Letterman’s group earlier this week criticizing the plan.
“There is a landfill in between the ‘new’ residential areas that needs to be capped and closed properly and there are threatened and endangered species currently utilizing the site.”
The landfill – which has yet to be properly capped – also has methane gas seeping out from the center of it, according to engineering studies commissioned by the project. It’s also the last bit of undeveloped land in the small town bordering Toms River and Berkeley townships.
Ms. Lettman also provided us a photo that shows activity at the site, which several South Toms River residents have surmised that the project is quickly moving forward – over the objections of residents – with the public hearing being just a formality.
Environmental issues aside, the financial concerns surrounding the project may be even worse.
Developer Won’t Pay Any Property Taxes For At Least 5 Years
South Toms River taxpayers may very well be the biggest losers under this proposal. Once the borough declares the land an “area in need of redevelopment,” state law allows the municipal council to grant the developer a property tax abatement, absolving them of having to pay property taxes for at least 5 years from the project’s completion.
They say it right in the plan: “The Borough of South Toms River will adopt an ordinance providing for the exemption from real property taxation of improvements or projects for a period of five years.”
Long-term Tax Gimmicks Possible
The redevelopment plan did not rule out the possibility of granting the future property owners a long term tax exemption. The plan specified that a potential deal could be worked out under a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement, where the developer will typically pay flat percentage of project revenues to the borough instead of the property tax rates paid by the average citizen or businesses.
Should a PILOT agreement be signed, the portion of the property taxes that are sent to the schools would disappear – meaning more kids (and more money being spent to educate them) without any revenue being sent to the school system to cover the cost, meaning that South Toms River taxpayers will have to pick up the tab in the form of higher property taxes.