In the first step towards making the two-million square foot vacant Alcatel-Lucent building more desirable to future developers, the Holmdel Township Planning Board agreed Tuesday to recommend the Township Committee recognize it by state statute as an “area in need of redevelopment.”
Currently, the property is classified as "an area in need of rehabilitation." But Township Planner Jennifer Beahm of CME Associates of Howell made a case in an April 26 report that the property easily meets the "Redevelopment" category, and recommended the switch.
“The Redevelopment designation provides more opportunity for Holmdel to bring this property back into the community,” she explained in her remarks to the board. It is “step one” in a legal process, which will later include review by township boards and opportunities for public input.
Already, the township has spent more than four years trying to bring the property “back into utility” and retrieve some positive benefits from development, she said. Meanwhile, property taxes on the vacated property have fallen $4.5 million in 2005 to about $500,000 in 2010, she said.
The Redevelopment designation, good for up to 30 years, gives the township authority to use eminent domain laws. It also means the township can enter into long-term tax abatement if it wishes to.
Beahm said the property needed only to meet one of eight factors for Redevelopment designation, and the old Bell Labs building meets four. She spoke about the deterioration of the structure, vacant since 2006; its obsolete 1960s layout which is alien to modern workspaces; its falling tax assessment as proof of its underutilization; and inconsistency with “smart growth planning” because there is little hope one user could take advantage of its hugeness.
Mayor Patrick Impreveduto, who sits on the Planning Board, said the Redevelopment Plan "wouldn’t be that different than what the township had in place before."
As for whether sewers would be permitted througout the 472-acre property, potentially opening it up for a much different kind of use that is currently there now, Beahm said, “The county has it in a sewer service area. The state has not adopted the countywide Wastewater Management Plan yet. The ultimate authority rests with the state. Until the state adopts the plan the status quo is in effect.”
Mayor Patrick Impreveduto added that back in December the Township Committee had assurance from county officials that sewering could be limited to just the building’s footprint if it passed Redevelopment Plan legislation.
But the ordinance was abandoned at the last minute after the township received a letter of protest from an Alcatel-Lucent attorney. A vote by a super-majority of the five-member board would have been necessary to override the protest, but one was not taken because Committeeman Rocco Pascucci was absent, and Committeeman Larry Fink had already expressed reservations. “This could have been settled in December, but it wasn’t. We didn’t have the votes,” said Impreveduto.
The mayor said he had spoken with state officials in Trenton about Holmdel’s concerns, including the Attorney General.
“The horse it out of the barn. I don’t see the township trying to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defend this,” he said.
He also said that he has made repeated phone calls to the contract buyer of the property, Elsie Sterling Oversight LLC, requesting a concept plan to show their intentions, as recent as that morning. The Miami-based firm entered into a contract with Alcatel-Lucent in February. “I’ve not seen a concept plan yet,” the mayor said. “We’re moving ahead.”