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‘Soft’ Commercial Building Boom Hits Teaneck

Teaneck—A commercial boom can be heard, but only softly in Teaneck, as instead of big-name franchises and huge industrial complexes, smaller, more residential-friendly stores and complexes are being encouraged to come and build.

At the beginning of the last fiscal year, residents throughout New Jersey clamored at municipal council budget hearings, demanding increased town-wide services but balking at the higher taxes needed to keep them. Residents also feared the idea of commercial projects and ideas that might refill the emptying coffers of the community at the price of possible changes to the quality of life and the overall nature of their familiar business and residential areas.

Councilman Mark Schwartz (co-publisher of JLNJ) said that the recent availability of large sites due to land sales is attracting new business. Aside from the multi-family apartment buildings, the right type of development, said Schwartz, is the smaller mom-and-pop stores that have been the mainstay of the American economy. “While we’d love to get a Starbucks, many of the franchise or triple-A rated companies that everyone likes really require the foot traffic.”

He said, “By increasing the foot traffic in our downtown areas we can eventually get those types of stores. My vision is for the Queen Anne/State Street business district, that’s where I think the most potential is.” He said that the area can be transformed through this process to be those downtown developments that are now in Englewood and Ridgewood.

While commercialization generally means attracting data centers or large industrial pharmaceutical and bio-tech companies, Schwartz said at this time that would not work in Teaneck. “Yeshivat He’Atid purchased a building known as the Teaneck Data Center, 28,000 square feet. That building was a never-occupied data center. It was purchased from the Bank of New York when they merged with JPMorgan Chase and that data center never took off.” He said Teaneck properties are too expensive for the back office while there’s a glut of commercial office space in New Jersey.

“Teaneck is an inner-ring suburb developed more than 100 years ago,” said Councilman Alan Sohn. One of the problems in attracting big businesses is the lack of large lots of land. Teaneck is well over 99 percent developed, he said, and looks very much like it did in 1940. Also, the New York Stock Exchange built a gigantic data center close by. He said the larger industrial and commercial companies want access to energy, access to land, access to infrastructure, less expensive land (land in Teaneck can be up to $600,000 an acre based on assessed value), access to highways. “In terms of all that it’s just easier to find all of that in outer suburbs.” He said there are areas in Ramsey, Mahwah or Edison where land is for sale at tens of thousands of dollars an acre where all those amenities are available. “It’s very challenging for Teaneck to compete.”

On the other hand, down the road in Nutley is Roche Pharmaceuticals, which now stands empty. He said it’s better to have a large variety of ratables than three or four that everyone depends on.

“By us putting hundreds of new apartments in that downtown business district that can lead to the other types of retail,” said Schwartz, attracted by the space as well as the average median income of the residents such that they can support such retail.

While small retail mom-and-pop businesses don’t tend to pay people enough to afford living in the types of apartments being constructed, Schwartz said that the mixed-use Glenpointe Complex does offer the types of high-pay, competitive jobs that will support a high-median-income area like Teaneck. “There are Fortune 500 companies and biotech companies there.” The growth in large commercial entities is there, not in the Teaneck business district.

However, in the past year things have begun to change as both small, mom-and-pop type businesses are being rejuvenated or moving into the business district, as well as large multi-unit buildings and commercial enterprises coming before the Council seeking zoning changes and the planning board seeking site plan reviews.

“We’re seeing the first new commercial ratables in Teaneck for several years,” said Councilman Sohn.

Deputy Mayor Elie Y. Katz told JLNJ, “Fortunately for us and for Bergen County there’s construction going on all around us. Hackensack is developing. Englewood is continuing their development, Fort Lee is continuing their development and now there’s an interest in Teaneck’s development.”

Katz said that every time one of these buildings goes up, more revenue and more taxable property is added to the tax roles, which means that Teaneck residential taxpayers might eventually in about four to five years be paying a smaller share of the tax levy. But that bringing in more commercial ratables must start now or it will take even longer to see some relief for the township and school district.

“That’s why proper development is encouraged. We have to be sensitive to the neighboring communities, which can bring in more revenue but also enhance the community, bring in new stores, bring in new people who can shop at these stores, build up business districts so it’s a positive for the township.”

Sohn said that in looking at these new projects the concern is that while new tax revenues will be created, new costs will have to be paid in providing schools, police and fire protection and first responders as well as additional infrastructure. However, he said these are marginal compared to the incoming revenue especially as the planned apartment buildings are targeting the active adult market.

Some of the present larger projects that have been coming before the Township Council in the past year include:

AvalonBay: A multi-family, 248-unit complex proposed for 5.88 acres on Windsor Road with 70 units in each four-story, mid-rise elevator building. They will consist of some studio apartments as well as one-, two- and some three-bedroom apartments, each over a parking deck or alongside a parking deck. The complex will have a wrap-around configuration around the parking deck so that residents can park on a deck even with their floor. The complex will also have courtyards with a recreation area and a park. Estimated property taxes would be about $1 million, up from about $200,000 from World of Wings museum that presently sits on the site.

1500 Teaneck Road (being sold to BNE Real Estate): A four-story, 231-unit apartment building above a parking level in the “Old Verizon Building” on 4.6 acres at 1500 Teaneck Road. It is estimated it could bring in $409,600 in property taxes and $606,895 in school taxes, up from about $100,000 it is paying now. This was sent to the planning board on June 22 to examine if it would be appropriate to have a four-story building on the site. Councilman Alan Sohn said there is concern that the building is too big and too close to some homes. He said there have been suggestions from the community to have a buffer. Councilman Henry Pruitt announced at the June 22 meeting that many changes were recently made by the developer after the last community meeting.

Alfred Avenue off of Rt. 4: Rezoning is about to be approved for several 18-story buildings to replace several acres of single-story buildings zoned for industrial use. Presently it’s estimated that it could bring in five to ten times the amount of taxes it’s bringing in now. Sohn said if it were to be developed more intensely, it could bring in five to ten times more in tax revenue. He said the township does not own any of the land here and so it is up to the existing property owners to either decide to redevelop the property themselves or find investors who are willing to buy.

Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe: A dual-branded hotel (two hotels in one), Hampton Inn & Suites (13 stories and 190 rooms) and Homewood Suites by Hilton (160 rooms) is to be across the street from the Marriott off of I-95 and I-80. These hotels target extended-stay travelers but do not have full services, unlike the first 350-room hotel near the Glenpointe complex developed by Alfred Sanzari Enterprises. The new hotels will cater to “value-conscious business travelers,” and won’t be in competition with the Marriott. It will have two parking levels within the building and be 147 feet high. It is estimated that it will result in more than $1 million in commercial and hotel-occupancy tax revenues for Teaneck and the school district and will provide a less expensive venue and easy transportation for travelers to New York City.

Yeshivat He’Atid purchased a building previously known as the Teaneck Data Center, 28,000 square feet at 1500 Queen Anne Road, adjacent to Torah Academy of Bergen County.

Developer Avram Holzer: 1376 Investments LLC, Palisades Avenue is proposing a seven-story, multi-family, 140-unit rental apartment complex. Holzer has remediated the vacant property at 1475 Palisades Avenue with frontage on State Street, Palisades Avenue and Queen Anne Road. Councilman Sohn said as a vacant property now it is bringing in almost no taxes but it is estimated that it could bring in about $500,000 in property taxes.

Another property that is standing vacant, said Sohn, is the former soap factory owned by Holuba Reality on 840 Teaneck Road, which had been the site of a proposed housing complex. However, Sohn said this is a distant possibility for development.

With all these new apartment buildings, Schwartz believes that the increase in population will be minimal, possibly about two percent, and that the number of school-age children will remain static, primarily due to the downsizing effect, while at the same time Teaneck sends many children off to post-high school education annually. He thought a 2-3% population growth could be expected.

Sohn said the Township presently brings in about $115 million in taxes. However, at full build-out these projects could bring in another $3 million or more in property taxes that would offer significant relief to the residents and add to the number of services that are provided. “We have to strike a balance but given the lack of commercial development in recent years all of these projects are a step forward.”

Deputy Mayor Katz said there has been a lot of positive feedback and that some of the apartments being built will probably be rented by residents who no longer want to deal with private house expenses, maintenance and responsibilities but “want to continue to live in the beautiful town of Teaneck.”

He said this surge of development and redevelopment is because the council has put out the welcome mat letting developers know that they are interested. “The zoning subcommittee has been meeting with the principals and developers of potential projects. We’ve been working on master-plan changes that are necessary to facilitate some of these projects. We’ve been giving our planner direction to implement zoning changes that are required. We’ve been showing that we are a very development-friendly community for the right projects. That’s very important.”

Asked if any of the developers have offered any accoutrements, such as playgrounds or donations for improved recreational and municipal facilities, which is common in some areas, Deputy Mayor Katz said he’d like to see that at some stage but that has not yet happened.

He said that while the Teaneck Council in 2008 was also very welcoming to more commercial and residential development, the world fell apart due to the bursting of the housing bubble. However, this new initiative started with this council in the last year.

“Teaneck is actually behind the times as far as development. Hackensack is way more advanced. Englewood is way more advanced. Fort Lee is way more advanced. Even Bogota has been developing.”

As to the face of Teaneck, Councilman Schwartz said it won’t change other than the commercial districts. “The big changes we’re seeing are these apartment buildings, which are hovered around Queen Anne Road and State Street and two more hotels hovering around the hotel district.”

However, Sohn said that the Council has to be a bit more proactive, having community meetings and reaching out to the community to address their issues and concerns. “Just listening to what people have to say is taking a giant step forward. We have to do that more consistently.”

As to community response, Schwartz said the council is getting requests from residents for contact information to get their names on the waitlist for the apartment complexes.

“This is what Teaneck should have had five years ago,” he said.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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