As the public hearing on the ordinances associated with the township’s settlement agreement with InterCap draws near, a couple of residents have urged the council to study the financial impacts of redevelopment before moving forward.
Residents John Church and Mike Baxter approached the council during the February 7 meeting, asking the council to perform an independent financial analysis of the impact of redevelopment, particularly the transit village that will be built by InterCap under the proposed agreement.
The Township Council introduced two ordinances last month that would codify the township’s settlement agreement with InterCap Holdings for the development of a transit village in the 350-acre Princeton Junction train station area.
InterCap, led by CEO Steve Goldin, a township resident, had sued West Windsor over the redevelopment designation of the 350-acre area around the Princeton Junction train station, which included InterCap’s 25 acres off Washington Road.
The ordinances were introduced on January 18, and a public hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 7. The ordinances are the next step in the settlement process, which the council began when it approved a settlement agreement in November.
The settlement calls for a total of 800 housing units — to be phased in — on InterCap’s property, along with retail development and infrastructure and amenity contributions. The most notable is a promenade that would provide a public area for residents.
Of the 800 residential units, 40 — or 5 percent — will be moderate income units based on state requirements. Most of the units would be two bedrooms, while as many as 10 percent could be one-bedroom, and as many as 10 percent could be three-bedroom.
Central to the concept plan is the circulation design for the 50,000-square foot promenade in the center of the site. The feature calls for a "shared space" design that focuses on pedestrians and bicyclists, with cars having to drive as slow as 15 miles per hour through the center of the site.
The first ordinance puts into place the standards as they apply to the InterCap property and identifies the areas of the redevelopment plan that will not be applied to the InterCap tract. The second ordinance guarantees that the terms of the settlement and redeveloper’s agreement will remain in place, even if the township’s redevelopment plan is struck down in a third -party litigation. The two ordinances effectuate the settlement.
Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg, who is presiding over the case, has indicated the "fairness hearing" required as part of the process will take place in the third week of March.
If Feinberg grants approval, a development application as outlined by
the settlement would go to the West Windsor Planning Board for approval. If the board approves the application, InterCap will dismiss its lawsuit against the township.
However, Church and Baxter urged further financial study before moving forward with the settlement. Baxter, who said he had over 20 years of experience in the financial business, claimed his own estimate calculated that redevelopment would increase taxes by between $2,000 and $4,000 per household per year. He called for an independent tax impact assessment.
"We don’t have a chance for a do-over on this," Baxter said. "This is an extremely risky decision."
He said that there was only one person in West Windsor (alluding to Goldin) who would benefit from the settlement. "The rest of us get higher property taxes" and impacts to the school population.
Morgan criticized the administration for what he says is their failure to disclose required financial statements. "It is state law that a redevelopment entity must produce financial statements," he said, referring to West Windsor, implying that he has not seen them.
He also referred to a resolution the council passed in June to approve the administration’s request to be considered for Transit Village designation under the state Department of Transportation.
While the administration said it thought the issue would have been a non-controversial issue, the move was criticized by Morgan, who voted against it because he felt the administration provided insufficient information.
The resolution asked the DOT to designate the township as a Transit Village and affirms the township’s willingness to "accept meaningful growth in terms of jobs, housing, and population within the transit village development district."
The resolution also states the township’s commitment to implementation of the "compact, mixed-used, transit-supportive vision" called for in the criteria for designation.
The designation allows the township to be eligible to receive special funding for smart growth initiatives once it meets a majority of the criteria established by the program.
The program, called the Transit Village Initiative, was created by the DOT and sets up a "Transit Village Task Force," with members consisting of 11 state agencies including New Jersey Transit, the Office of Smart Growth, and the Economic Development Authority to name a few. The goal is to increase transit ridership, reduce automobile congestion, and improve air quality in New Jersey, the township’s resolution states.
At the time, however, Morgan questioned the designation’s impact on the ongoing InterCap litigation and questioned what the designation of a "transit village" could mean in terms of development near the train station. Township Attorney Michael Herbert said at the time that the designation would have no impact on the InterCap litigation.
Morgan also questioned the urgency of approving the application for the designation. The mayor and business administrator Robert Hary said the municipalities designated under the program received funding last year just for being designated but that the automatic funding would probably not be available in future years.
When pushed for more clarification, Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said he believed the township could apply for as much as $110,000 in grants under the program this year. Beginning in the new fiscal year on July 1, however, the funding will probably be no longer available, he said.
Council members said the simple possibility of getting a grant should move the process forward.
Morgan said the lack of specific information about the urgency for approval and benefits to the township was another example of how his requests to the administration for more information on a variety of subjects continued to be ignored. He referred to his lawsuit against the mayor, in which he alleges the administration refused to provide him a report regarding the budget, which he said is a violation of state statute.
He repeated these claims at the February 7 meeting. "These people told us we had to pass this resolution urgently for grants," said Morgan, who added that it was untrue.
"That resolution in June was a decision to settle because we did not spend time to deliberate," Morgan added.
When it comes to requesting reports from the administration, Morgan told Baxter and Church that "you’re wasting your time."
Councilwoman Linda Geevers, however, disputed the residents’ claim that property taxes would increase by the amounts Baxter suggested. She referred to a financial analysis that was completed in 2009 by a redevelopment financial subcommittee set up by the township.
The finance subcommittee meetings were held during deliberations on the redevelopment plan. During those meetings, the township brought in former school board member Stan Katz, who was renowned for his statistical analyses of the number of school children brought in by each new development, as well as a statistician from Rutgers University, both of whom testified that there would be no severe impact to the school district.
Those experts estimated that .28 children would be generated per household. Using that number for 800 housing units, the InterCap redevelopment area would only generate up to 224 possible students. "That is not going to require the building of a new school," said Geevers.
In addition, the redevelopment would be phased in, and officials say the number of children coming in over time will integrate with a projected decline in the school population.
Hsueh emphasized that for every step through redevelopment, the township has always the impacts. And with regard to Morgan’s claims that the administration has not provided financial information regarding redevelopment, he said that every year, the chief financial officer generates a computer print out regarding how the township spends its redevelopment money.
"They (the council) receive that on an annual basis in terms of how much money has been appropriated toward redevelopment," said Hsueh. "It’s always been given to the council."
During his comments, Morgan also criticized the township for not being able to introduce a budget that has a zero percent tax increase, pointing to Hamilton, where taxes have remained flat for the past four years. "I’m voting against the budget if it doesn’t come down to zero," said Morgan. "If Hamilton can do it, we can do it."
Geevers said that the two townships could not be compared. Hamilton has laid off more than 80 employees in order to do so, she said. "They have much higher staffing levels; they were bloated," she said.