I think I'm loosing my mind! Why, on God's green earth does Washington Township need to entice the development of a prime piece of real estate with a form of a 20 year Real Estate Tax Abatement! I know that these tough economic times has taken it's toll on construction, BUT, Washington Township still is a much sought after area. I know, I sell Real Estate - Township Sells! Look around, people, there IS new construction being built and sold throughout Gloucester County - put out there that this piece is available and test the waters before you give away the farm. Definitely, Township needs to do something to help lower taxes, but, I cannot see this project doing that.
I will give you a little history later, but here are my objections, so far, to this project:
The tax abatement is in the form of revenue in lieu of real estate taxes. Essentially, the Township is going into a partnership with the Developer. The developer can offer the rents at a reduced rate since the taxes are 0 and potentially attract tenants. What is that going to do to the existing businesses and centers, already with so many vacancies. This subdivision is being built non-profit, but non-profit does not mean that the Board works for free or that anyone has oversight on the salaries/costs/expenses of the non-profit except the board itself. So essentially are we depending on the honesty of the Board of Directors of the Non-Profit? If this is the case, I do have a problem.
The strain on the schools is obvious. The proposal was made with some study being quoted that the apartments would not burden the School District. Who needs a study? I will be calling the School Board and asking the transportation department how many kids come out of the condos and apartments (2) already in Township. If I'm pleasantly surprised, I will most definitely apologize.
The project is being built in stages with the most lucrative, my opinion, the apartments and strip center first. I say most lucrative because the apartments are going to rent in a snap and the strip center tenants, if able to get in cheaply, should go as well. What guarantees do we get that the remainder of the project, (the townhomes that do not get the abatement and the offices that will attract a desirable, job-creating professional location) will be built. What happens if the Developer pulls out, or at worst, declares bankruptcy. Township is left holding the bag in my opinion. Remember the subdivision down on Egg Harbor - the builder just disappeared before he completed the project and it was 10 years until the project was complete! If there are hardcore guarantees in the proposal, I'll consider changing my mind.
Washington Township cannot afford to be duped. I hope to be able to see the details of the project before the public hearing.
A little history - There was a small article in the Washington Township Times last week, but there was a go forward to public hearing on a Major Project to be built in the Township down by Virtua. The project includes 330, yes 330 apartments, townhomes, Office Space and Strip stores. The project is a variation of one that was put before powers to be several years ago and shelved at the time. This project comes, as it is today, with a 20 year tax abatement. This tidbit was brought to Council's attention by a concerned citizen about the strain it would put on schools, police, and most municipal services, and it sparked a heated debate. On one end of the spectrum one very informed gentleman defended the project as it stands offering that enrollment in schools are declining and the multi-family housing does not actually add very much to school rolls and it will bring jobs to town. On the other end of the spectrum, a gentleman absolutely refuted every aspect of the project. His opinion, and he also has impeccable credentials, absolutely refutes that the project will not affect strain on schools, is not a true "ratable" tax income project and will mostly bring retail clerk type employment opportunities. He questioned the footprint of the plan that eliminated the open space that could be used by all residents of town. He felt it was a poor use of this parcel of ground and did not benefit the town either in the short or long term. A third gentlemen questioned the builder's status and it was reported that they qualify for the abatement because they had filed as a non-profit. He also questioned how the project was scheduled - apartments and strip first stage. As an aside, this is important because the townhomes are not part of the abatement and the offices do generate professional employment opportunities. Another point this gentleman brought up was that the newspaper article alluded to the fact that the construction would bring jobs to town and he disputed that the workforce would, in fact, be the developers construction crews.
A few of us lingered after the meeting and spoke to Council President. He explained that the abatement is not total absolution of real estate taxes, but that under this pilot program, the town would receive a percentage of the revenue in lieu of real estate taxes. He did not know the ratio of revenue to valorium real estate tax. When questioned about the potential not receiving anything on vacant units, since the project has not been presold, he did say that there was a factor in for that but did not know what that percentage was off hand. Earlier we had asked when the public hearing would be and it has not yet been scheduled and when it is it will be reported in the newspaper. The original lady was pretty vocal about how little attention something this important received. She said she “knew more about hoagie sales in Town than this.” I will try to stay on top of that for us. And, finally, when asked if there was any way we could see a copy of the proposal to be able to question from knowledge at the public hearing, the President said he would check with the Township Solicitor to see if it could be posted on the Township Website.