A small resolution approved by the Verona Town Council on Monday night has the potential for big changes on Durrell Street. Resolution number 127 allows the Planning Board to determine whether several properties on the F.N. Brown district street can be qualified as a redevelopment area.
The Planning Board’s work would focus on the lumber yard once used by Bahr Lumber, which closed in February, as well as the parking lot across the street, which has been used for Bahr’s heating oil business, which continues to operate. It would also encompass properties at 30, 40 and 42 Durrell that are owned by Fredco Landscaping.
At issue is what kind of new structures would be placed on the properties, which are now all zoned for residential use. Now, either freestanding homes or townhouses could be built, and potentially a lot of them. At the Town Council meeting, planning board attorney Greg Mascera said that perhaps as many as 33 townhouse units could be built on the lumber yard property, which backs on Lynwood Road. “It seemed prudent that if a multi-family development is to be put on the lumber yard, to look at both sides of Durrell,” said Mascera.
If the properties are deemed in need of redevelopment, which generally means that there are unsafe or substandard conditions on the property or that its commercial use has been discontinued, the town would gain greater control over the design and landscaping than typically occurs when a construction project goes for town approval. It could also open the way for Verona to get more tax revenue from such a development.
Last used at the Hilltop, the wooded ridge on the western side of Verona, the redevelopment designation could make it possible to collect what is known as a PILOT, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, on the homes built instead of regular property tax. In a PILOT structure, 95% of the tax revenue collected goes to the town and 5% to the county.
The town seems to be hoping that whatever is built on the Bahr and Fredco properties is one- and two-bedroom units and not single family houses. The theory is that the former are less likely to appeal to families with children, and add fewer students to the Verona school system.
It could take the Planning Board several months to decide whether the properties qualify as an area in need of redevelopment and the designation would have to be approved by the Town Council and opened to public debate. Redevelopment is not the same as eminent domain, an action by which a government body takes control of private property. All the Durrell properties would remain in the hands of their current owners, or the developers they sell them to. John Bahr, the owner of Bahr Lumber did not return a call for comment about his plans for his property.