Route 18 redevelopment projects are moving forward

EAST BRUNSWICK–East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Michael Hughes said the agency has made tremendous strides in all three designated redevelopment areas in town, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hughes provided information during the Feb. 8 council meeting via video conference, his first update in about a year.

Hughes said the three main redevelopment areas include 39 Edgeboro Road; 110 Tices Lane; and areas 2a and 3a, which are also referred to as Route 18.

For the 39 Edgeboro Road project, Hughes said the agency, in the last three months of 2020, was able to negotiate a new financial agreement and redevelopment agreement on that piece of property.

2019 is when Hughes said the original financial agreement for 39 Egdeboro Road was adopted; however, once the pandemic hit the property owners reached out to the township and informed officials they had another tenant who was interested in the location.

Seeking to alter the property to gain more parking space, Hughes said the interested tenant also wanted to acquire a parcel of the Middlesex County Utility Authority (MCUA) property, which is adjacent to the solid waste facility on Edgeboro Road.

“That’s a piece of property that currently was not on the tax rolls because it was owned by MCUA so zero revenue is being generated from it,” Hughes said. “So the township was interested to hear their plans and we were able to work with their attorneys, as well as ours … and negotiate a new financial agreement and redevelopment agreement and amend the redevelopment plan, all within a three-month timespan.”

Not getting into specifics, Hughes said this agreement will enhance revenue for the township and input properties that weren’t on the tax rolls now in a position to be a revenue generator for the municipality.

“It’s an underutilized, underperforming property … deep on Edgeboro Road [which] we’re putting them on the tax rolls and so it’s going to lead to a very successful site on 39 Edgeboro Road,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the property will become a FedEx facility, and it will be one of the first in the state outfitted for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.

“[Councilman James Wendell] and I just did a site visit actually on Feb. 4. The facility’s coming along great, except that they have the construction trailer out there working on the portion of parking that’s going to be on MCUA property, and we expect that property to be fully occupied and up and running really soon,” Hughes said.

Moving on to the 110 Tices Lane project, Hughes said the agency was able to negotiate a financial agreement that generated five times the current revenue than it achieved from the site, which is $2.3 million yearly; that will come to the township when that project is completed. Previously, the township only received $100,000 in tax revenue from the site.

Hughes said the agency also established redevelopment fees for this project, which is $1,500 per market rate unit that will set the bar for future projects moving forward as a way to sustain the agency without using tax dollars.

Formerly the old Wonder Bread factory, Hughes said the site has not been fully occupied in recent years. On that site, every year from 2013-19, property tax appeals were on the books and ready to be adjudicated quickly.

“As part of the financial agreement, we made sure that all of those tax appeals were dropped no matter where they were in legal processing or how quickly,” Hughes said. “As part of the financial agreement, we had to take out those tax appeals from the legal system, which resulted in a big savings to the township because it eliminated that exposure from that litigation.”

Hughes said to satisfy the township’s affordable housing obligations, out of the 115 affordable housing units mandated by the courts that are in the redevelopment zone, 103 will be on this site.

As part of the 110 Tices Lane redevelopment plan, Hughes said a variety of agreed off-site improvements will be made, which include:

  • Widening of Tices Lane to two lanes in each direction;
  • Dedicated turning lanes into development
  • Construction of new loop road to access Route 18, crossing Tices Lane from Renee Road;
  • New traffic signals and geometry improvements at Tices Lane and Renee Road intersection;
  • Eight acres of land deeded to township for municipal ice rink;
  • Connections to all bike/pedestrian trails;
  • New multi-use trails; and
  • Drainage and stormwater improvements.

Hughes said the project’s new equity partner, Russo Development, will be included in the redevelopment agreement for Route 18.

“The redevelopment agency went through a process of meeting a new equity partner, which is Russo Development, not only meeting them, but also hearing from [Russo Development Chief Executive Officer] Edward Russo, really hearing his vision for the redevelopment area and … authorizing him to be partners in a joint venture with River Development Equities. Russo Development is not only a statewide player, but a player in the region when it comes to development, and nationally.”

Hughes said the agency also amended the project’s redevelopment plan to add more flexibility from one bedroom and studio units.

“Most importantly is, the state really asked for more flexibility to include more one -bedroom and studio units on the property because they are seeing a growth in that market and want the flexibility to be able to exceed some of the original maximums for those two unit types,” Hughes said. “There’s no increase in the density or in the unit count. It’s merely the types of units that will be going there and kind of flipping them around. You’re still heading up to the same number at the end of the day.”

The financial agreement for the Route 18 project, Hughes said, is due soon and negotiations are ongoing, and the agency, along with Township Attorney Michael Baker, is coming very close to a final agreement, which will likely track north of more than $3 million per year to the township on the entire piece of parcel.

“Lastly, there’s a real desire to get a site plan to planning board by summer. Defined summer is June 21 to Sept. 23. With a project of this magnitude, and this complexity, there’s a lot of hard engineering, that’s been conducted,” Hughes said.

Regarding the next steps for each of the major three projects, Hughes said for 110 Tices Lane, the agency’s Advisory Committee has been tasked to brainstorm potential names for the project.

For the Route 18 project, Hughes said a financial agreement for the project will need to be approved by the council and he projects it will on the council’s agenda soon.

Hughes said lastly, a complete property acquisition and site plan for Route 18 will need to be approved by the planning board by this summer.

For more information, visit www.eastbrunswick.org/129/Agendas-Minutes or www.eastbrunswick.org/redevelopment.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.