School Board and Community Voices Push Back on Council’s Housing Project and PILOT Program

In a recent Teaneck Town Council meeting, discussions revolved around the 189 Plaza development project and its proposed long-term tax exemption through a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. Pursuant to the program, developers agree to make payments to the municipality based on a set formula, often related to the project’s revenue or a fixed amount, instead of paying traditional property taxes. While some residents expressed concern about the project, others voiced hope for its potential for economic development and affordable housing.

The proposed project envisages the construction of a new residential complex containing 48 units, with seven earmarked as affordable housing. Notably, the development plans promise to accommodate public parking, allocating nearly 22 spaces for public use – a considerable financial burden on the developer estimated at $40,000 per space.

A series of speakers, representing various neighborhood associations in Teaneck and brought together under the umbrella of a “Coalition of Neighborhood Associations for a Better Teaneck,” voiced their opposition to the proposed PILOT program. One of the primary criticisms was that such programs tend to benefit developers at the expense of taxpayers. Resident Noah Brown stated, “The 189 Plaza is not an area that is blighted or distressed,” pushing back against the intended purpose of the PILOT program.

Lynette Moore highlighted the potiental negative impact on the school district, stating, “The most egregious aspect of a pilot agreement is that the funds all go toward the municipal budget with only 5% going to the county and no funds going to the school district budget.” Clara Williams, a local Board of Education trustee, also expressed her anxieties regarding the adverse impact of PILOTs on the school district’s budget.

Roberta Pickett and Bob Lazaroff echoed the skepticism. Pickett voiced concerns about the town’s oversight capabilities, whereas Lazaroff, referring to insights from a accounting firm, highlighted potential manipulative strategies developers might employ to maximize profits from such programs. Rishma Khan, a long-standing Teaneck resident, also urged the council to “table the ordinance,” considering the project’s checkered history and past delays.

However, voices in favor of the PILOT were present too. Howard Rose emphasized the council’s overdue review of the town’s master plan, hinting at an inclination to bypass the master plan for areas requiring redevelopment. Moreover, Mr. Kaplan made a case for the program, arguing that if implemented correctly, PILOTs could prove advantageous for the township by stimulating economic growth, generating consistent revenue for Teaneck, and creating more affordable housing.

Hillary Goldberg, a council member, shed light on the Council’s position. She emphasized that the project would not be feasible without the PILOT, given the current high interest rates. She stated, “With the PILOT over 30 years, the township will receive an estimated $8 million in revenue. Without a pilot, the taxes could be $12 million, but the developer would not be able to build with the parking requirements and affordable housing component at the current interest rate.” She further highlighted the reduction of the building from 15 stories to 6 as a concession to public concerns and voiced her commitment to transparency and fair negotiations.

Separately, other discussions centered around the renovation of baseball fields and the integration of cannabis businesses within the town. A notable proposal came from Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), which plans to upgrade its baseball field and has offered to let Teaneck High School use it, providing access to Teaneck sports organizations for older children. For this partnership to proceed, FDU wants the township and the Board of Education to share the cost of field lighting. Concerning the cannabis businesses, there was a debate on the review and approval process for applications, with a call for maximum transparency and possibly limiting the number of issued licenses.

Finally, Mark J. Schwartz raised concerns about the appointment of certain individuals to the Site Plan Advisory Board, asking, “What on earth are we doing appointing Broadway set designers and lighting salespeople over a real estate lawyer and a planner on our site plan advisory board?” Despite reservations from some council members, the appointments were approved with a majority vote.

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