SAYREVILLE – Officials in Sayreville are requesting that residents disregard a survey about an ongoing $2.5 billion mixed-use development, which they believe is intended to create opposition to the project.
The survey, which was distributed to residents in late 2018, focuses on Riverton, a mixed-use project being developed in the borough alongside the Raritan River and on a site formerly owned by National Lead.
Representatives of North American Properties, which is developing the project in a joint venture with PGIM Real Estate, said Riverton will total 5 million square feet in size and is considered the largest mixed-use project in New Jersey history.
The creator of the survey is the National Community Based Development Initiative (NCBDI), which borough officials stated has no affiliation with the Riverton project, the Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Agency (SERA) or the municipality. The NCBDI states that it is a coalition of land use and transportation planners, development and smart growth experts, housing advocates and municipal leaders.
“We are working collectively to implement sound and transparent criteria for major development supported by significant public financing and tax incentives,” the NCBDI survey reads. “It is our mission to work with communities, local governments and planning officials to ensure that large, private development projects receiving public financing are planned in partnership with affected communities. These development projects should reflect and invest in the priorities and values of proximate residents and provide significant community benefit.”
In the survey, the NCBDI comments that Riverton will affect the daily life of Sayreville residents in many ways, including schools, taxes, infrastructure and the environment.
“We look forward to working with Sayreville residents to educate and engage in the Riverton development throughout the various planning and entitlement states,” the survey reads.
However, SERA commissioners believe the survey is intended to position Riverton in a negative light and create opposition.
One of the required questions asks survey takers if they are supportive of the public financing for the project, stating that Riverton will receive financing from a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. The survey comments that such an agreement allows a developer to pay a reduced annual fee that is primarily received by the municipality and not property taxes, which help fund public school districts.
In a PILOT agreement, 95 percent of a developer’s annual payment goes towards the municipality and 5 percent goes towards the county, with no finances going towards the school district.
Another required question asks survey takers to rate their overall satisfaction with the project’s current plans after stating that the proposed plans include mixed-use development featuring retail space, offices, hotels, residential units and a marina on the Raritan River, the developer is seeking borough-level financing, including a PILOT agreement, and the project will be built on 400 acres of waterfront property with an estimated $2.5 billion cost.
As an optional question, survey takers are asked to select any of what NCBDI deems as potential impacts of Riverton that they think will be harmful to or challenging for the Sayrevillle community or needs be addressed before development moves forward. The potential impacts cited by NCBDI are remediation/clean-up of environmental contaminants remaining from National Lead, traffic from out of town and out of state visitors and new residents of Riverton, school overcrowding, PILOT funding reducing funding allocation for local schools, public financing for private development, and an increase in property taxes.
Survey takers may also comment about other concerns about the development that they might have.
Prior to these questions, survey takers are asked about how important the revitalization of the former National Lead site is to them and may share comments about whether and how important they believe the revitalization is. Survey takers also have the option of selecting potential impacts that NCBDI cites as being beneficial to Sayreville – new residential units, affordable housing units, retail space, office space, hotels, a conference center, a marina, a waterfront park and recreational space and potential new jobs – and commenting about any other possible benefits.
In response to the survey, SERA commissioners stated that the waterfront redevelopment plan and the master redevelopment agreement executed between SERA and North American Properties in 2008 imposes standards and requirements on the Riverton project.
Issues addressed in the redevelopment plan and agreement include a state-approved cleanup of environmental contamination, an analysis of traffic impacts and required roadway improvements, the format of new housing to mitigate impacts on school enrollment, direct payments in support of Sayreville schools, and other public amenities.
According to SERA commissioners, the redevelopment plan and agreement also impose processes where SERA, the mayor and Borough Council, and the Planning Board represent the interests of residents and Sayreville through review and approval of the Riverton project as it moves closer to being implemented.
The SERA commissioners also said that the redevelopment of the former National Lead site is designed to engage and inform residents at each stage, with public hearings being held by SERA, the council and the Planning Board. Likewise, North American Properties has hosted public information forums and has an ongoing campaign to update and solicit input from residents regarding Riverton.
Along with SERA, Mayor Kennedy O’Brien and Councilwoman Victoria Kilpatrick, who sits on SERA, voiced opposition to the survey.
“The Riverton redevelopment has been undertaken in an open and transparent process,” O’Brien said. “This poll is highly suspect, and we can only assume it is the work of some competitor who is looking to stir public opposition for its own financial gain. When the findings of this poll are released, we hope that Sayreville residents consider the source and disregard what is reported.”
“For the past two decades, Sayreville leaders have been working to remediate this site and create an amenity that will generate revenue for the borough,” Kilpatrick said. “When we saw this survey mailed to our homes and believed that it was designed to damage the credibility of this project, we were compelled to reach out to residents.
“Everyone needs to understand that some outsiders, for their own personal reasons, are trying to dismantle years of work to create the type of project that would enhance Sayreville,” she continued. “That is why we are speaking up and urging residents to disregard this dubious survey.”
Representatives from North American Properties have no additional comments and said they have not spoken with any individuals from the NCBDI.
The NCBDI website, along with its Facebook and Twitter profiles, was created in 2018. The only individual identified as being with the NCBDI is senior advisor Ganesha Martin.
When contacted for comment, Martin’s email response said she was out of the country on personal travel and would respond when she returns on Jan. 21.