Town, depot firm reach agreement

Plan for the VA Depot includes a $1.1 million payment to Hillsborough in lieu of taxes.

By: Melissa Edmond
   A split Township Committee agreed to a plan for the redevelopment of the VA Depot on Route 206 that includes a $1.1 million payment to the township over the next three years in lieu of taxes.
   "We have reached an agreement that protects the community and benefits the taxpayers. It is my intention that these funds be used to reduce taxes," said Mayor Bob Wagner.
   According to Township Administrator Kevin Davis, Somerville Business Park (SBP), a subsidiary of Industrial Realty Group (IRG), agreed to make a $300,000 per year annual contribution to the Ttownship retroactive to 2004 through 2006 by the end of 2006.
   "Over the next three years they’re going to make a contribution of at least $1.1 million," said Mr. Davis.
   He said the company will make an annual payment in future years based on a formula calculated on payments of 40 cents per square foot, adjusted annually with inflation.
   "We did an analysis of what they might pay in taxes if they had to pay taxes. We came up with a range between $270,000 and $330,000 depending on the use," Mr. Davis said about how the township came up with the figures for the agreement.
   The committee approved the plan on a 4-1 vote, with Committeeman Paul Drake casting the lone dissenting vote.
   "It’s hard to calculate what our quality of life is worth when there will be a countless amount of trucks and trains coming into Hillsborough as a result of this project," Mr. Drake said Wednesday. "The project is a federal property and the fact that it remains a federal property does cloud our ability to control the site but that still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned over what happens on the site."
   He said that he hopes IRG can demonstrate and participate in the long-term planning of the township and evaluate the project’s impact on the community, traffic, and noise.
   "This agreement has nothing to do with the facility’s operation. We don’t have the authority to allow them or disallow them to operate," Mr. Davis said. "This agreement gets money for the taxpayers and it protects the community through the list of things they agreed not to do."
   According to township officials, SBP also agreed to allow environmental inspections without notice, and to enforce state noise standards at the facility.
   Other provisions prohibit storage or transport of garbage and solid waste at the facility, require the company to give the township prior notice of new tenants and changes to the site plan for the property, and to permit the township to audit company records to determine payments in lieu of taxes.
   The company also agreed to prohibit storing tanker railroad cars at the site, storing and stacking rail shipping containers, and using the site for rail switching.
   "Of particular importance is that the company has agreed that the township’s permission is needed for bringing any hazardous material on the site. That is a major concession that protects our community," Mayor Wagner said, noting the township was not notified in 2000 when additional mercury was brought into the Defense Logistic Agency depot adjacent to the VA Depot.
   "They will need our permission — and they will certainly never get it from this Township Committee," he added.
   As part of the agreement, the township agreed to support improvements to Brown Avenue, to provide customary municipal services, including obtaining joint police jurisdiction.
   The agreement also includes language that the township recognizes the company’s exemptions as a leaseholder on federal property.
   "They need to improve Brown Avenue for their operations. The township needs it improved so trucks can move more freely out of there," said Mr. Davis.
   He said SBP would need to make a plan for the improvements and go before the Planning Board.