9/11 families get their day in court, high school singers compete in Englewood Idol and 16 sensational soups – all in "6 things to know in New Jersey on Thursday." John C. Ensslin
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — The borough has doubled down on its efforts to fight a developer seeking a court order to build affordable housing on the former Unilever campus.
On Thursday, the Borough Council hired another attorney to handle the case and authorized the appointment of an alternate borough planner.
Both the co-counsel, Jeffrey Surenian of Jeffrey R. Surenian and Associates, and the yet-to-named planner will be paid up to $25,000 to defend the borough against litigation filed by Normandy Real Estate Partners to intervene in the borough’s affordable housing negotiations and build 600 residential units at 800 Sylvan Ave.
“We are taking this subject very seriously,” Council President Carrol McMorrow said.
McMorrow said she believes Normandy, the owner of the 28-acre property, never wanted to build the modern office space it proposed in a rejected application to the Planning Board last year and intended to construct housing all along.
“I believe there have been two plans going concurrently so that the most amount of money possible can be reaped,” McMorrow said. “I believe they are using one plan to get the benefits of another plan and that is just plain wrong."
McMorrow said she beleives the developer does not want to build offices because it can make more money as a real estate investment trust company by building housing on the site.
A spokesman for Normandy strongly disputed those allegations Thursday, saying Normandy committed to four Planning Board meetings over a four-month period to present the application and had already started marketing the proposed redevelopment to prospective corporate tenants.
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“The plan was met with hostility… despite Normandy’s genuine efforts to work with the community in presenting and refining the proposed office redevelopment plan,” spokesman Scott Cianciulli wrote in a statement. “After this first, purely commercial proposal was rejected, Normandy went back to the drawing board to explore other redevelopment possibilities for the property.”
The Planning Board voted down the office proposal because it required a subdivision of the property, more than a dozen variances, or building waivers, and did not conform to the borough’s campus-like vision for the site, according to board documents. Normandy is challenging the denial in court.
The company now hopes to subdivide the property into an 8-acre portion where Unilever will continue to lease offices and a 20-acre tract where it would build 30 residential units per acre. Of the 600 total units, 15 to 20 percent would be for moderate- and low-income residents.
The project would “buttress the community’s tax base and address a critical unmet need for modern new multi-family housing that is currently non-existent within the borough,” Cianciulli wrote.
A Superior Court judge is expected to hear the case later this month. The judge gave Normandy permission earlier this month to weigh in on the borough’s compliance with the constitutional mandate to provide affordable housing after questioning Englewood Cliffs’ dedication to the effort.
The borough’s Republican officials have insisted they are working diligently to unravel past mistakes by the former Democratic-led administration. They have also chafed at the 600-unit obligation calculated by the Fair Share Housing Center, arguing that nine units is a more realistic obligation for the small town.
Mayor Kranjac said Thursday that the borough will meet with Normandy next week in an attempt to resolve their differences.