The Bayonne Planning Board has voted unanimously to designate the former Seahorse Express property on LeFante Way as an area of need of redevelopment.
City Planner Suzanne Mack presented the redevelopment study to the board. The City Council passed a resolution authorizing the planning board to study the property in February of this year.
Redeveloping the former Seahorse Express building
The Seahorse Express property is a 6.42 acre site owned by North Hook Associates, LLC, according to Mack. The site to the west is the South Cove Commons Center, to the north is the Bayonne Golf Club, and to the south and east and other industrial properties.
Mack said the building “was involved in heavy machinery and transport for many years. Right now, it is vacant and unattended.”
According to Mack, the site is part of a derelict industrial area.
“It’s a highly industrial and very interesting area for us,” Mack said. “It’s a very desolate area. Thankfully, we’ve been able to have industrial warehouses in that area for many years. They’ve been able to function. But as things go on, the area has become more derelict and abandoned.”
In addition, there are environmental issues.
“We’ve had a great deal of flooding in the area,” Mack said. “We’ve had storms that have really taken these smaller functioning industrial buildings that were able to be functioning throughout many years but now they really do not. They’re not functionable, and also they can’t attract clients in the current state.”
Due to those reasons, among others, it is necessary to designate the area as in need of redevelopment to allow for remediation and other steps to proceed to rehabilitate the site, Mack testified.
“There is really a need to blight the area and tear them down and start anew in order to put in the sustainability elements that we need in the area and also the remediation that needs to be done for DEP in order to make it a safe area,” Mack said.
Qualifying as an area in need of redevelopment
Mack testified that the property fit under the qualifications for blight because of abandonment, flood damage, being located in an Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), and smart growth. She added that “meeting five of the criteria is quite compelling.”
The property is on an interior lot with a 67,000 square foot, two-story building. Mack said it fits the blight criteria for abandonment, which is two years. But she said it has been abandoned for more like 10 years, although the owners have been trying to better the property.
“They’ve tried to clear it out,” Mack said. “They have DEP applications in and are doing work with DEP to remediate the area. They ran into a lot of problems with the Superstorm Sandy. Everything that was in the ground came up during those storms. Therefore, it’s really compelling that they if they want to put back a building there they need to clean it up.”
Mack said that designating the property as an area in need of redevelopment would allow the site to be rehabilitated.
“We know that land in that area can be redeveloped and used for a good purpose,” Mack said. “But right now, in the state it’s in, nobody is going to rent it or at least be able to deal with it.”
The redevelopment does not include the Conrail lot in front of property. Mack added it does not include nearby city-owned property either.
“It’s an industrial area that’s seen better days,” Mack said. “According to the property owner, the building systems are in such poor condition that they are financially infeasible to repair. The lack of adequate building systems such as fire is untenable.”
Fulfilling other blight prerequisites
According to Mack, the site meets redevelopment criteria for faulty design due to the “untenable” and unfeasible” lack of systems to continue to operate the building as a warehouse.
“The building is antiquated and cannot reasonably accommodate contemporary logistics and warehousing needs,” Mack said. “The building has a low floor. It’s only a two-story building. State of the art now is to put up higher buildings in these areas so they can put in proper ventilation and have high key warehouses. The current condition is not there and therefore meets faulty design.”
Mack said the site meets criteria for flood damage too: “A portion of the site is in the flood zone. The entire area was subject to flooding during Sandy.”
Being located in a UEZ automatically qualifies the lot as area in need of redevelopment, Mack said.
“We try to never just use that point,” Mack said. “We try to go into more specifics.”
Lastly, Mack said the site meets blight qualifications for smart growth.
“The site is in the highest targeted grow area in the state plan by virtue of its established infrastructure and excellent accessibility to regional and global transportation in the target area,” Mack said. “Once the site is developed, they will have really good access to the New Jersey Turnpike and the improvements there.”
Mack said the owner is looking to keep their business in Bayonne, meaning a new warehouse will likely be built on the site.
“The owner is very committed to the project,” Mack said. “They’re very anxious to stay in Bayonne. They own the property and they find themselves in a site which, because of natural situations, they have not been able to develop the site without a designation for redevelopment.”
Planning board and city council designate site
Following Mack’s presentation, the board voted to designate the site as an area in need of redevelopment, unanimously and without question. While the planning board was in favor of advancing the project, the City Council almost didn’t act on it.
The resolution received a motion from a council member, but did not receive a second to allow a vote on the resolution until attorney for the applicant Michael Miceli clarified what the project encompassed.
“This is an industrial property that the planning has recommended be an area in need of redevelopment,” Miceli said. “I ask that you second this to move it forward. They want to knock this building down… It’s the Seahorse facility on LeFante Way. It’s really dilapidated. I would urge someone to second this to get it moving. We’re getting to the redevelopment plan stage. But this is a nice new facility. So if you could just second it so we can move forward with it. There will be input. It’s down in an industrial neighborhood. And it’s really a bad property.”
Following the clarification, City Council President Ashe-Nadrowski said she remembered the project from the previous planning board meeting and seconded to move the resolution.
“I will second this,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “This was on the planning board last night. It’s a certainly contaminated area that is a blight. I can agree to that.”
The rest of the council voted with her in favor of the resolution. Now, the planning board is directed to draw up a redevelopment plan for the site.
That redevelopment plan will need to be approved by both the board and city council. Then a final site plan can move forward, paving the way for shovels in the ground.
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