Planning Board Faces Spectrum360 Dilemma

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Spectrum360
The Spectrum360 site at the corner of Bloomfield and Sunset avenues abuts an area of many expensive homes.

The Planning Board will hold another special meeting on the Spectrum360 property tonight, Tuesday, February 9, and it faces a dilemma: A redevelopment plan at odds with Verona’s land use goals that the town may be powerless to change.

The Planning Board has been asked to do a so-called consistency review of the project, which would put a four-story, 200-apartment building on the site of a school for children with autism. The review is meant to evaluate the project against Verona’s master plan, the land use guidelines that Verona enacted a little more than a decade ago. Unlike the site reviews that the Planning Board usually handles, it does not vote to approve or deny a project in a consistency review. Instead, it puts its analysis in a report and sends that on to the Town Council.

At the Planning Board’s first meeting on the consistency review on January 28, Planning Board members pointed out differences between the project and Verona’s rules on stormwater and tree protection, among many other issues. “I think it’s loud and clear that none of us believe it’s consistent,” said Planning Board Chairman Larry Lonergan near the end of the more than three-hour meeting. “There are substantial problems.”

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Also at the meeting, which you can watch in full below, Peter Steck, a planner working for opponents to the project, asserted that the Spectrum360 property is actually in an area that the state of New Jersey has deemed environmentally sensitive, a so-called Planning Area 5 (PA5) and not the PA1 growth area designation that the Planning Board had been led to believe covered all of Verona. The state adopted these designations in 2001 to help municipalities balance growth and conservation but they were not included in Verona’s master plan, which was adopted a few years later.

After the consistency review report is concluded tonight, the Spectrum360 project goes back before the Town Council where, in theory, a majority 3-2 vote could defeat it. But that is unlikely to happen because Verona would face almost certain legal action. In May 2019, the Town Council reached a settlement with the redevelopment group to avert a so-called builder’s remedy lawsuit that could have allowed the group to construct many more apartments on the site. (If the Town Council moves the project ahead, it could come back before the Planning Board for a site plan review if it needs variances.)

It’s also not clear whether the state would act to block development in a PA5 zone or whether the Fair Share Housing Center would oppose building affordable housing on the site. The Spectrum360 plan is supposed to have 15 affordable housing units among its 200 apartments and Fair Share Housing, which was created to promote affordable housing outside New Jersey’s major cities, has previously advocated against affordable housing in environmentally sensitive areas.

Tonight’s meeting will be held online over Zoom, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Now back in Verona, she contributes to a variety of publications and Web sites, and consults on social media. In Verona, she serves on the Verona Environmental Commission and HBW SCA, and has been part of many other civic and religious groups in town. A graduate of Rutgers University’s Environmental Stewards program, she has also run an after-school program on the environment for elementary school children here. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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