METUCHEN – The borough will enter into its first PILOT, payment in lieu of taxes, with the redevelopment of the Gulton Tract, which essentially allows the borough to invest $20 million in borough infrastructure.
“It includes everything from substantial money for our schools ($6 million), money to help renovate our library, which is badly needed, money to help on an initial down payment on some work we need to do with the [new] emergency services center, [and] provide opportunities to fix up and renovate a lot of our fields that need work,” Mayor Jonathan Busch said, adding they are at a point to figure out how to spend all that money.
“There’s some badly needed infrastructure improvements and this is an opportunity for us to do so with minimal tax impact so we are really excited about all the opportunities.”
Borough officials are inviting the public to discuss what is going on with the Gulton Tract on Durham Avenue and the proposed PILOT, which is expected to be approved in the next few weeks, at a meeting from 7-10 p.m. March 24 at Metuchen High School.
“We will have an in-depth discussion about the PILOT and project,” Busch said, noting “feedback guides us” on the decisions made in the borough. “We need to hear from people to make those decisions.”
In Sept. 2021, the borough adopted an ordinance of a redevelopment plan for the Gulton Tract, which allowed the borough to enter negotiations with the conditional redeveloper, according to Emily Givens, who is the redevelopment attorney for the project.
The project area consists of approximately 27.45 acres with approximately 13.42 acres containing developed or disturbed land and the remaining approximately 14.03 acres being predominately vacant land and wetlands within the Peter J. Barnes III Wildlife Preserve.
The borough and conditional redeveloper have developed a refined redevelopment plan addressing a number of different aspects of development of the Gulton Tract including preserving environmentally-sensitive areas, open space in conjunction with the county, Givens said.
The Borough Council approved the introduction of an ordinance to approve the amended Gulton Tract redevelopment plan at a meeting on March 14. A second reading and public hearing of the ordinance is scheduled for the next council meeting on March 28.
The Planning Board reviewed the refined development plan for consistency with the borough’s masterplan at a meeting on March 17.
In December 2021, Middlesex County officials announced their intention to work with the borough to acquire 18.7 acres of land in Metuchen to later become part of the Peter J. Barnes III Wildlife Preserve.
In addition to the 18.7 acres being acquired from the Metuchen Realty Association, the county will enter into a conservation management agreement with the borough to manage an additional 12 acres of open space located adjacent to the newly purchased land, which will provide the opportunity for possible future acquisitions.
Plans for the preserve include an extensive trail system for walking, hiking, biking and strolling; there will be boardwalks that traverse above wetlands; a footbridge for walking over the brook; interpretive signage to give visitors some context; the preservation of surrounding plants and wildlife; and possibly an observation tower to watch for the estimated 165 different species of birds in the habitat.
This new addition to the Peter J. Barnes III Wildlife Preserve will provide many benefits of open space, including the preservation of essential habitats for plants and wildlife, the capture and storage of rainfall, and the protection of underground water sources.
The present owner of the property has spent approximately $10 million to clean up the site from removing all illegally dumped debris to replacing contaminated soil with fresh soil.
Properties like the Gulton site are right for a PILOT instead of property taxes, Busch said.
Properties like these wouldn’t move if it weren’t for PILOTS,” he said. “When you buy a property like this, you often spend more money cleaning it up … PILOTS are designed to get properties like these cleaned up and moved along.”
Developers like PILOTS because they end up paying the town’s percentages of the revenue on a project instead of paying property taxes. They also like that because it takes a while when constructing something to develop revenue so it could help them recoup their investment, Busch said.
“When you talk about cleaning up environmental contamination it takes a lot of money to be able to recoup that investment,” he said.
Towns like PILOTS because by the time the period of PILOT is over, the town ends up getting more money from the developer then it would through traditional property taxes, Busch said.
In other news
The Borough Council approved a capital ordinance providing for the acquisition of land for the site of a future emergency services center for the borough’s fire department and emergency medical services.
“Since it costs a lot of money to buy property you have to transfer money into one account to another so this is the transferring of money to one account to another [in order to] acquire the property through a real estate contract just like you would have if you were buying a building or a house yourself,” Busch said.
However, the mayor said they are not quite at the point of an actual contract. He said he will keep the public informed of the progress as they continue moving forward.