Nearly three years ago, Chatham’s Mayor & Borough Council granted a partnership led by a Kushner family company the exclusive right to submit proposals for a Borough-sponsored real estate development at Post Office Plaza.
Over the next two and a half years, Kushner and partners failed to come up with a proposal acceptable to the Borough.
Best they could offer was a hulking, 100-rental unit, commercial apartment/retail project. It would have provided 15 affordable apartments, but wiped out existing public parking, clogged up traffic on Main Street, cost taxpayers heaven-only-knows-what, and destroyed the small town charm of our Borough. Residents didn’t like it.
On January 26, 2022, our Mayor & Council let the exclusive period lapse, and began to entertain other proposals. On May 2, they voted to build a modest, 15-family, all-affordable apartment house at Post Office Plaza.
Instead of accepting that decision, on Wednesday, June 8 the Kushner partnership asked an affordable housing judge to force our Mayor & Council to accept the commercial real estate project they had just voted down.
The revised Housing Element will be up for approval at two special meetings set for the coming week, both at 7:30 pm, Borough Hall, 54 Fairmount Avenue, upper level, and virtually as indicated in the links below.
The Mayor made the right choice, as it was the smallest and best of the options presented. But those options were too limited. All five involved new construction and the sacrifice of at least some public parking. We’d be far better off using existing apartments to meet our affordable housing quotas. http://chathamchoice.org/2022/04/whats-the-rush/
Our Mayor & Council will soon have another chance to pursue that so called ”market-to-affordable” option when they enter negotiations for the fourth round of affordable housing quotas due in July 2025. We must urge and encourage them to seize that opportunity.
Please come to the Middle School at 7:30 tonight, April 25, to learn about the five proposals for the future of Post Office Plaza, which our Council will decide by vote next Monday, May 2nd.
It’s nice to have five options, thanks to our Mayor, but (for reasons our Borough experts can’t seem to explain) those options aren’t broad – or even adequate – and the Council lacks the basic information necessary to make a good choice for Chatham.
Costs, for instance: How much would it cost the Borough to support each proposal under consideration?
Good question. But you’ll find no answer in the table provided by the experts we taxpayers pay to help us:
Sure, that table estimates our ”financial obligation” as guarantor of certain projects and mentions the sacrifice of our irreplaceable public parking lot. But what’s the value of that public land we’re about to sacrifice? Based on comps, it’s worth at least $10.5 million – more than ten times the $1 million sale price shown in proposal #2.
And what about the additional, ongoing costs for schools, police, firefighting, public works, library services, parking, etc? How much would all that cost residents and taxpayers under each of the scenarios under consideration?
Far as we can discover, the Mayor & Council have never even tried to estimate those costs. (Far as we can tell, they never did so for their 259-unit apartment project under construction at River Road, either.)
Now let’s look at what the table above does reveal about the options on offer:
Option #1: Nightmare. A huge, 4-story, 118-unit apartment project to be crammed into the small plot behind the Post Office, west of little Bowers Lane. On the plus side, it would include 18 affordable family units and might generate $563,000 in annual PILOT payments, but we’d get no property taxes. This project would also bring far greater density, put at least 200 more cars on Main Street, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a little paved patio (they call a ”village green”) and a dangerous, hulking, multi-level, parking garage. http://chathamchoice.org/2022/01/is-this-what-you-want-for-chatham/ What about the costs? Would Chatham Borough wind up with any net revenue at all? Nobody’s saying. Absolutely horrible.
Option #2: Nightmare II. A big 3-story, 100-unit project west of Bowers Lane. On the plus side, it would provide 15 affordable family units. But this project would sacrifice 100% of our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for as little as $1 million, leaving us with NO public parking at POP. That lack of parking might offset some of the additional traffic, but would probably kill most of our existing downtown businesses. In effect, we’d suffer greater density in return for nothing but the hope of $415,000 in annual PILOT payments. And what about the Borough costs for 100 additional families? No estimates available. We could end up with no net revenue. Terrible.
Option #3: Best Hope. A much smaller, 3-story, 15-unit project west of Bowers Lane. On the plus side, this one would provide 15 affordable housing units, an est. $45,000 per year in PILOT payments, would cost the Borough far less density, traffic, and municipal services than #1 or #2, would upgrade and preserve almost half of our public parking lot along with some small-town charm. Only issue would be the possibility of up to $1.5 million in construction costs, which could lead to a very small property tax increase. That would be well worth it to preserve our borough. So if we must choose among these five options, this is our best hope.
Option #4: Frankenstein. An even bigger, 3-story, 200-unit project. It would include a large 100-family project on the west side of Bowers and a 115-bed assisted living facility on the east side. This option would provide 22 units of affordable housing, and might bring in $415,000 per year in gross revenue – plus unspecified assisted living taxes – but it would dramatically increase density and traffic, bring Main Street to a halt at shift changes, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a mere $1 million or so. What about the other Borough costs? Again, we have no information about that. Just plain terrible.
Option 5: Frankenstein Jr. A variation on #3, with a small, 10-11 unit family apartment house on the west side of tiny Bowers Lane, and a huge, 100-unit, 115-bed assisted living facility crammed onto a less-than-1-acre plot on the east side of Bowers Lane. The plus is that it could provide up to 18 units of affordable housing and perhaps $30,000 per year in gross revenues – along with unspecified assisted living taxes – and a parking lot upgrade. But that’s only after reducing the lot by more than 50% – without compensation. This option would also dramatically increase traffic, and choke Bowers Lane at shift-changing times. It might cost as much as $1 million to finance construction of the apartment building, but we could easily finance that with no more than a minuscule tax increase, which would be far better than Options #1, #2, and #4. What would the other costs total? No known estimates. Bad, but not the worst possibility.
With top experts on retainer, how did it come to this? How can our Council possibly choose from such bad (and poorly detailed) options on May 2 as planned?
We need to see those five options well before that special public meeting, so we’ll have a chance to evaluate them.
We need to know that among the options presented will be the one that’s best for Chatham: Satisfy our POP affordable housing quota by subsidizing 15 existing apartments. Make POP more attractive by landscaping and resurfacing the parking lot, and NOT selling, gifting, leasing, or otherwise disposing of any Borough land; or reducing the amount of free, open air, surface public parking; or building any kind of parking garage; or granting a PILOT tax break – or any other kind of corporate welfare. Why? http://chathamchoice.org/2022/02/our-little-town/
With the future of Chatham at stake, we need more than one such special public meeting, something our Mayor explicitly promised on 27 January 2020. (Start at minute 13:00.) https://vimeo.com/387823706?embedded=true&source=video_title&owner=40797229
give the Kushner partnership yet another extension of time (their sixth!) to come up with a decent design for Post Office Plaza; or
let the Kushners’ exclusive contract expire – and give someone else a chance to design something that might suit us – instead of swamping our roads, schools, police and fire departments, and destroying our quality of life in Chatham Borough?
Which way will the Mayor and Council decide to go? To find out, tune in this Monday, Jan 24, at 7:30 pm using this link:
Could a fire truck get close enough to fight a fire on the south side of the building? Photo credit: TapintoChatham
That video doesn’t show exactly what the project would look like, but what it does reveal is troubling to say the least.
The Kushner design sacrifices the free, public, surface parking lot we treasure, substituting fewer public spaces – mostly in a hulking, 4-story parking garage along the railroad tracks.
With no service road along those tracks, it appears the only way to get to that garage by car is via narrow, dead-end Bowers Lane, which is also the future site of a 34-plus-unit assisted living facility. And the only way out of that garage is a right turn from Bowers Lane onto our already clogged-up Main Street.
Worse yet, on foot, the only way shown into – or out of – that garage is in a secluded spot up against the railroad tracks, at the end of a narrow alley. (Would you have your mother use that door?)
The Kushner design also appears to encroach upon the property of some adjacent landowners, who were not even consulted.
Building it would require tearing down one of the most interesting historic sites in Chatham:
Once built, this new Kushner project would justify replacing other Chatham properties with 4-story buildings, inevitably robbing Chatham of the low-rise charm that drew many of us here in the first place.
Would this project at least provide plenty of affordable housing? No. It would yield a mere15 of the 320 affordable units envisioned in the settlement the Mayor signed on June 14, 2021.
Let’s face it: This Kushner proposal isn’t good for anyone except the rich developers.
But it’s pretty much what you can expect to see in Post Office Plaza unless our Mayor can persuade Fair Share Housing to accept a better solution – for instance, letting us subsidize 15 or so existing apartments – instead of building a big commercial project nobody wants.
What do you think of this latest Kushner scheme for Chatham? Email: email@example.com
Also, be sure to share your opinions with our Mayor before Jan 24, 2022, when the Borough Council must decide whether to renew the Kushner partnership’s exclusive status as redeveloper, or cut them loose.
Help the Mayor resist the pressure to sacrifice Chatham to the big developers. Remind him of what he said back in 2016: