The Verona Planning Board voted on Tuesday, February 5, that an open lot opposite the Verona Community Center and a series of lots on the north side that include the former Cameco factory meet the criteria of an “area in need of redevelopment”. The two decisions could give the Town Council more control over redevelopment on the properties, but is not an eminent domain action that would lead to the government taking control of any land it does not now own.
The board’s vote was unanimous on the Cameco area properties, formally known as Block 2301, Lots 1 through 19, a series of properties with different owners along Bloomfield Avenue, Pine Street, Depot Street and Linn Drive. They include the former Cameco factory, which closed last August, the former Poekel Travel Bureau and a vacant lot that once held the Service League daycare center, as well as several houses, Subito Music, West Essex Building Supply, the former Erie-Lackawanna railroad line and a narrow wedge along Linn Drive.
The apartments on Linn Drive are not included in the zone because they did not meet any of the specific criteria that must be found for a zone designation. These criteria can be found in the report compiled by Verona’s planner, Jason Kasler. Verona has previously created a multi-property area in need of redevelopment: After the Annin Flag factory closed in 2013, such an area was declared around the building and several adjacent properties.
The second property declared an area in need of redevelopment was Block 2205, lot 6 (885 Bloomfield Avenue), a narrow wedge of land between Bloomfield Avenue and Fells Road that was once the site of railroad tracks. The motion on it passed with eight Yes votes and one No vote, from member Jessica Pearson.
The lot has long been zoned for townhouses but the board noted that none have been built; the property is vacant except for a billboard and a bus stop. During public comments, several residents of the area implored the board to preserve the lot in its current wooded state, which seemed to resonate with the body. “I hope that, down the road, we find a way to preserve open space,” said Jennifer Critchley, the vice president of the Planning Board.
The next step is for the Town Council to pass a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to establish redevelopment plans for the two areas, which could spell out what could be built there and how it could be built. Each area would get its own plan, and Kasler told the board that it could also create multiple plans within the Cameco zone. Existing uses would be grandfathered in–a single-family house lot would remain so–but potential new uses could be added, making it possible for the Cameco factory lot to be turned into affordable housing.
Verona’s municipal government currently owns the former Service League lot in the zone and the Cameco factory, which it purchased in December 2018. The town reached an agreement with the owner of the Poekel property in October 2018 to turn that into a mixed-use development with some affordable housing units. “Affordable” housing means a dwelling that could be purchased or rented by someone with a moderate income, roughly $47,000 to $75,000 a year in our area. It is not the same as Section 8 housing, which is government-subsidized housing for very low-income people. Any new developments in the areas would likely have to go through their own Planning Board or Board of Adjustment review, which would include public hearings.