SCOTCH PLAINS – The township council on Tuesday named Woodmont Properties LLC as the conditional redeveloper of the nine acres of public properties in the downtown business district. The move comes two years after the council cut ties with the previous redeveloper and a year after it began evaluating a fresh batch of proposals from 11 interested companies.
The Fairfield-based firm and township redevelopment officials will spend the next four months finalizing a redevelopment agreement for the properties—which include the municipal building on Park Avenue and the library on Bartle Avenue along with their adjacent parking lots, as well as the municipal parking lot between Bartle Avenue and Westfield Avenue and the rescue squad property across from the library. The agreement will also include the financing mechanisms for Woodmont’s purchase of those properties.
Speaking with Union County HAWK last week, Mayor Joshua Losardo and redevelopment director Thomas Strowe were enthusiastic about the Woodmont selection, with Mr. Strowe saying that the company, which has worked on redevelopment projects in Cranford, Metuchen, Red Bank and Morristown, had “met our vision” for the downtown. The mayor said the exterior designs of the proposed mixed-use and residential buildings “meshes with what’s already here and will make them look like they’ve always been here.”
At the council’s meeting on Tuesday night, Mr. Strowe reviewed the process and the criteria used by township redevelopment officials for evaluating the proposals. He said the architectural aim of the new buildings is one “where you come to Scotch Plains, you know you’re in Scotch Plains.”
The mayor said that Woodmont officials had told him during the selection process that, “we are already a sought-after town.” Addressing the handful of company officials at the meeting, the mayor added: “With your help, we will become even more sought-after.” He said the plan is for some town hall-style meetings to be held in the fall – after the redevelopment agreement is finalized – so that residents can see what the plans are and offer their input.
Conceptual renderings show new buildings containing apartments, commercial space and parking on the properties where the municipal building, the library and their adjacent parking lots currently are situated. A third new building will be built on the site of the municipal parking lot between Westfield Avenue and Bartle Avenue. No building will be higher than four stories, with the top floors set back under a gabled-style roof, thus lessening the overall impact of the building itself.
Although the plans could change in the coming months, the current idea is for a new building to be constructed where the municipal building now stands and the library and municipal offices being part of that new structure, which will be located between one of the new mixed-use buildings and the Alan Augustine Village Green and surrounded by new open spaces and public plazas. Last fall, the township received a $4 million state grant to be used towards construction of the new library.
A maximum of 350 residential units will be spread amongst the new buildings, and most of the 15,000 sq. ft. of first-floor commercial space will be in the new building adjacent to the municipal building. Parking for residents, businesses and the public will be spread throughout the new buildings.
Stephen Santola, Woodmont’s executive vice president and general counsel, spoke briefly at Tuesday’s meeting, saying his firm was “excited and flattered” to have been chosen as the redeveloper while promising that “we’re not here to change the character of downtown. We love your downtown.” He said Woodmont’s goal is to “help reinvigorate and reinvest and bring some new excitement to what’s already a really lovely spot.” He said Scotch Plains reminded him of downtown Metuchen, which was dominated by a massive surface parking lot before its recent redevelopment efforts. “We understand the benefits derived by taking huge fields of asphalt and turning them into economic development.”
The plans also call for the police and fire department headquarters — presently located in the downtown – -as well as the rescue squad to be relocated to township-owned property on Plainfield Avenue across from the public works facility. Mr. Strowe told HAWK last week that the Plainfield Avenue site will be separate from the downtown efforts and that a redevelopment plan for that site is currently being formulated.
The search for a redeveloper began anew after the township council two years ago severed its relationship with the original redevelopers due to differences over how the downtown should be redeveloped. PS&S LLC, a Warren-based engineering firm, along with Advance Realty Investors of Bedminster, had been named the township’s conditional redeveloper in September 2019. In late 2021, PS&S sued the township for at least $1 million for “the cost of time, materials, and manpower provided by PS&S for the benefit of the Township.” They have also filed suit earlier this month for “improper use and misappropriation of PS&S’s intellectual property and services” which they allege to be worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”