The Verona Town Council held a special meeting on Saturday morning to introduce an ordinance to buy the former Cameco Inc. property on Pine Street and Cameco’s adjacent residential property. The ordinance authorizes a $3.1 million bond. Verona would be paying $2.85 million for the property, with the balance going towards bonding costs, environmental and engineering studies, and closing costs.
Cameco shut down in August after six decades in business in Verona. The property covers roughly 1 1/2 acres near the Verona Community center, and includes the factory and four houses. Verona owns the property on the western side of the Cameco lots, as well as the land on the other side of the adjacent former Poekel Travel Bureau, the building in the clearing above.
The proposed Cameco purchase is intended to be part of Verona’s strategy to manage construction at several large properties in town to meet our affordable housing obligations. At its October 1 meeting, the Town Council approved a concept plan for the Poekel site and another for Spectrum 360 (the former Children’s Institute) at the corner of Sunset and Bloomfield Avenues. They are two of the four so-called intervenor properties that had been in affordable housing discussions with the township. The other two are the site of Verona’s leaf dump near Commerce Court and a property that abuts Eagle Rock Reservation, both of which are owned by South Orange developer Roger Kruvant.
Since 1975, when the first of the three so-called Mount Laurel decisions was handed down, New Jersey towns have had to make sure that a “fair share” of their housing was accessible to people who are less well off. In our area, a property designated as “affordable” needs to be within the budget of people earning between $47,250 and $75,360 a year–people like teachers and first responders. It is not the same as Section 8 housing, which is government-subsidized housing for very low-income people.
Verona has fully met its Mount Laurel obligations in the past. But when former Gov. Chris Christie stripped the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) of its responsibilities in 2015, the affordable housing quotas of all New Jersey towns were scrambled. Outside experts consulted by Verona officials have said we now need between 20 and 120 additional affordable housing units, but the Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group, insists our shortfall is 327 units. New Jersey’s Superior Courts have the final word on what needs to be built and Verona has a status conference with the court for our area on November 16 at which it needs to show the progress it is making toward meeting its obligations.
Intervenors can use these obligations to force development that a town might have otherwise not wanted. Town governments are seeking to mitigate overdevelopment that would be burdensome for their schools, traffic and infrastructure through negotiated concept plans that specify how many total housing units a developer can build and what percentage must be affordable housing. At Spectrum 360, that is 20 percent of the 300 apartments that could be built, and Verona gets credit for an additional 60 units. At the Poekel site, the concept plan calls for a mixed-use development of approximately 46 rental units, nine or 10 of which would be affordable, and 6,395 square feet of commercial space.
Verona would not build the housing at the Cameco site itself. Instead, it would flip the property to a developer with a concept plan that could potentially require up to 100% of the units to be affordable. A 100% affordable project is now being built in North Caldwell beyond the mansions that are going up on the western side of White Rock Road. “There are multiple developers that have experience with this,” says Township Manager Matt Cavallo. “We will be reaching out to them first.”
The second reading on the proposed ordinance, which includes time for public questions, will likely be at the December 3 Town Council meeting.
UPDATE: After MyVeronaNJ.com published its story, Township Manager Matt Cavallo issued this statement.