East Brunswick council restores redevelopment agency


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EAST BRUNSWICK Aiming to better handle future reconstruction projects, the Township Council approved an ordinance amending the township code to update and reestablish the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency.

In 1983, the council at the time adopted a code to establish a redevelopment agency for the township, but it was never active. The current code was out of compliance with  New Jersey state law and was updated to comply with current with state law, according to Joseph Criscuolo the township’s business administrator.

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The council passed the ordinance to update the township code regarding the redevelopment agency on May 22, at its semi-monthly meeting.

Mayor Brad Cohen and Council Vice President James Wendell spearheaded the idea to reestablish a redevelopment agency for the township, according to Criscuolo.

“In order to do redevelopment projects we can do it one or two ways – it can do it completely itself and take on all the responsibilities that are inherent in running and making decisions on redevelopment on its own. That’s great, but generally that’s good if it has one small project, like have a building that it wants to convert into something, and that is the extend of your redevelopment,” Cohen said. “However, if the governing body is going to be doing redevelopment projects on a larger scale it’s often difficult for it to commit a large amount of time beyond what it already has committed itself to do which is to help running the township.” 

Developers prefer to work with agencies as it is seen as removed from the politics of the governing body to a much greater extent than working directly with the council, according to Criscuolo.

The redevelopment agency will oversee all redevelopment projects in the township and work directly with investors and developers, according to Cohen.

The agency will have the power to raise capital from redevelopment fees and projects with the agency, buy and sell property, bond if it can prove that it has a revenue stream, and condemn a property if the property is in a zone the agency deemed in need of redevelopment, according to Cohen.

“The redevelopment agency also is not going to act without advice. It has the right to hire the professionals that it needs to be able to get answers to questions that it doesn’t know, like attorneys or redevelopment attorneys. We have already hired somebody to act as the consultant for the redevelopment agency to take the lead in directions and negotiations,” Cohen said. “That is James Kennedy who is a former mayor of the City of Rahway. He was the mayor of Rahway for almost 20 years, who’s done redevelopment there and is also a current assemblyman. So he’ll be acting in an advisor and consulting capacity to the redevelopment agency and it through its own funds can hire other professionals that its see needed.” 

“Kennedy will probably do most of the negotiations and talks with present property owners to try to get us in the direction that agency needs to be that also meets the needs of the township. The commissioners that are going to be representing the governing body and township, in making sure that whatever it redevelops meets the needs of the township,” according to Cohen.

The redevelopment agency will officially be established in mid-June, according Criscuolo.

The agency’s primary goal is to redevelop areas that are the closet to the New Jersey Turnpike, according to Cohen.

“The goal is to able to produce some sort of community where you can walk, play and work all within walking distance of a bus shuttle to take people to the transport centers. We really want to make a transit center out of that northern section of Route 18. If we can do this, that is really something that the state is looking at. The state is looking towards developing, encouraging, and supporting transit center concepts for people that live in a commutable distance of New York City, where people don’t need to rely upon cars,” Cohen said. 

“I think that we have the ability to do that on that section of town, it just won’t be a train centered transit center it, but it will be a bus centered transit center. I think that is very promising for Kennedy who with his own consulting company does a lot of consulting in redevelopment. Kennedy only does a limited amount of projects in a period of time and he dropped some just to do this.”

The Redevelopment Agency will consist of seven commissioners who shall be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council, according to the council agenda.

Two representatives from the council will serve as commissioners for a term of one year and the remaining five commissioners will serve five-year terms, according to the council agenda.

Each commissioner will not be payed for their services and is required within 18 months of appointment to complete two mandatory courses involving the ethics and principals of redevelopment, which are regularly offered at Rutgers University’s Center for Government Services, according to the council agenda.

The township will pay for each commissioner to take the required courses, according to Cohen.

Despite running against Council Vice President James Wendell during the 2016 mayoral election, Cohen said that Wendell has been working with him since the beginning of this year on redevelopment projects.

“[Myself and Wendell] are friends working for the same goal for the township now. I think it’s a model of frankly how people should be working together for the township and finding areas to make common goals. Myself and Wendell working together shows that people can work together and look for compromises to move forward, opposed to digging themselves in the sand and just remaining obstinate, which is what people are seeing all across the country and specifically national. I think myself and Wendell are an example of how elections should be run and how different parties can work together afterwards. I want to make sure Wendell gets credit for working with me and doing the right thing,” Cohen said.

Wendell did not respond to requests for comment.

For more information about the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency visit www.eastbrunswick.org

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.   

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