Plans for Avenel arts village progress with purchase of site

Staff Writer

The crafting of an arts-based transit village in Avenel is coming closer to fruition, and taxpayers will not be responsible for funding any part of the project, according to Woodbridge officials.

Mayor John McCormac spoke with residents about the most current plans for the Station Village at Avenel during an Oct. 29 meeting on the project.

“We promised people that when we knew something, we’d let them know — and that’s what we did,” he said.

The Township Council voted Oct. 7 to abandon a bond ordinance that would have allocated nearly $8 million for the township’s Redevelopment Agency to purchase the 27- acre property on Avenel Street that was once home to General Dynamics.

“We contemplated getting involved to purchase the site to move things along, but the buyer and seller reached an agreement … so we no longer had to move forward,” Mc- Cormac said.

The purchaser, Station Lofts LLC, is taking the reins on the massive redevelopment project that has been on the mayor’s radar since he took office in 2007, he said.

“Back then we realized the importance of arts-related development to the town’s economy,” McCormac said.

Based around the train station, the Station Village at Avenel is slated to consist of 500 residential units, 25,000 square feet of retail, a 10,000-square-foot arts center, 30,000- square-foot village green and 20,000-squarefoot pocket park.

The arts center would host performances open to the community at large, according to McCormac. While it’s unclear how many guests it would accommodate, it would complement the performance spaces at the Barron Arts Center and Woodbridge Middle School, the mayor said.

“And hopefully all the retail will be artsthemed,” McCormac said.

The multifaceted development would replace the idle factory formerly used by General Dynamics, a supplier of defense systems to the U.S. military. The plant closed its operations there in 2000. “The current building is such an eyesore,” McCormac said. “And when the new complex is built, it will clearly have a positive impact on property values.”

Environmental cleanup will be necessary before any construction can ensue.

The Township Council declared the site as being in need of redevelopment following a study by a planning consultant in 2007. The study showed that remnants of the site’s industrial past were clearly visible, and the facility had fallen into a severe state of disrepair.

“The cleanup is in the multimillions,” Mc- Cormac said of the cost. “It’s a major cleanup.”

The remediation process, along with the demolition of the structure, will likely take about a year to complete, he said. Demolition should begin over the next couple of weeks, he said. In addition to getting the property back to a usable state, the developer must install a traffic light at the entrance of the development along Avenel Street.

In recognition of the developer’s “unusually large investment in the cleanup,” Mc- Cormac said the township has reached a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with the builder. The agreement provides a 15 percent discount on the site’s tax bill for 30 years, he said.

The agreement would have the owner pay the township an estimated $1 million annually for the site, which currently generates $377,000 in annual property taxes.

Commuters are the targeted residents for the project, and if they indeed fill the majority of the units, certain projections may prove true. For example, McCormac said the typical commuter to New York owns one car in a two-adult household.

McCormac said officials took a proactive step toward limiting potential traffic snarls around the site by banning trucks on Avenel Street a few years back.

“At its heyday, the plant had 1,500 employees and three shifts,” he said, adding that the roads should be less congested than they were during the plant’s operation.

In another projection, McCormac spoke about potential additions of students to the school district as a result of the project.

He compared the proposed Station Village at Avenel to the existing 300-unit Barron’s Gate community on Rahway Avenue, saying it added 130 students to the school system.

“We would expect no more than 130, and probably a lot less,” he said.

Plans show that 156 of the 500 units slated for the site would be one-bedroom residences, which cannot house children. The other units would each have two bedrooms.

With the proper approvals, the first residences would be slated to open in 2016.