The Verona Town Council voted in a special meeting on Thursday, May 28, to buy two properties owned by the Poekel family near the Verona Community Center and add them to the former Cameco lots nearby that are slated to be redeveloped as affordable housing. The purchase will reduce the number of housing units that had been planned for the area and could effectively block additional housing from being created elsewhere in town.
The properties are Block 2301, Lots 17 and 18, and Charles Poekel Jr. had previously reached an agreement with the town to build 46 housing units on them, including 36 market rate apartments and 10 affordable housing units. Poekel was one of several so-called intervenors, property owners that have been seeking to use the change in New Jersey’s affordable housing rules to build additional housing in Verona. Those developments could have added as many as 716 housing units to Verona.
By combining the Poekel lots with the Cameco properties, Verona seems likely to be able to significantly reduce what Township Manager Matt Cavallo called a “worst-case scenario.” Instead of 46 Poekel units and 85 on Cameco, those properties will now only have 95 total units developed, all of which will be affordable housing.
There will be no development on two properties owned by another intervenor, Kruvant. The Kruvant lot on Mount Prospect Avenue could have added 129 housing units while the Kruvant lot at the end of Commerce Court, a large lot that backs up to Birch Lane, Oak Lane and Brookside Terrace, could have added 189 units. The town had previously reached a difficult settlement with Spectrum360, the former Children’s Institute at Bloomfield and Sunset avenues, that reduced development there to 200 units from 300. Fifteen of the units in what will otherwise be a luxury development will be reserved for affordable housing.
In all, Verona will now add 295 units of housing, a reduction of 421 from what it might have been forced to allow. One hundred of the 295 units will qualify as affordable housing. 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.
The purchase price for the Poekel lots is $3.3 million. To finance it, the Town Council introduced an ordinance last night to increase the bond ordinance approved to buy the Cameco lots in 2018 to $6.75 million. The final vote on that ordinance will be taken at the Council’s next meeting on June 8. The Council had to hold a special meeting to buy the Poekel property to be able to meet a deadline at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
All five members of the Council voted in favor of the Poekel property purchase. Mayor Jack McEvoy noted that impervious coverage by buildings and parking lots on the Cameco and Poekel properties would drop from 90% under their original redevelopment plans to 50% under the new plan. In addition, the building that had been planned on the Poekel lot was to have been five stories; now, no building on the combined site will be more than four stories. The new project will have exits on Pine Street and Linn Drive but not Bloomfield and could include a community garden site.
“There’s no doubt that we are going to take a short-term hit money-wise but for a long-term gain,” said Councilman Kevin Ryan, who said that he believed that the combined project would be far superior to the previous separate plans. “I don’t think there’s any question that in the initial stages we are going to outlay more money. But, as everybody else just mentioned, you can be penny-wise and pound foolish.”
Cavallo said, in response to questions from the public, that he did not expect work on the site to start until late 2021. He said the project must go before the Planning Board and that a full traffic study will be conducted for that presentation.
You can watch the full meeting, which was conducted over Zoom teleconferencing, in the video below: