With the approval for a 72-unit, 11-story senior citizen complex already in tow from the Guttenberg Planning/Zoning Board, developers for the project have now approached Mayor Robert Sabello and the township council for a possible tax abatement that will aid in the cost of the development.
At the latest regularly scheduled township council meeting, developer Joseph Alpert of the Fort Lee-based Alpert Group asked the council to initiate a Strategic Neighborhood Plan supporting the proposed project, to be built at the site of the old Sokol Hall catering facility on 70th Street.
Alpert also asked Sabello and his council members to allow a payment in lieu of taxes, projected at nearly $14,000 a year.
Representatives from both the development group – a partnership between Alpert Group and the Guttenberg Affordable Housing Corporation – as well as the township stated that the development group would need some assurances in order to proceed. It would need to be assured that it can receive the federal housing tax credits, as well as other federal and state government housing aid to complete the project.
According to Sabello, he doesn’t see a substantial obstacle in getting the project to move forward.
“All systems seem to be going,” Sabello said. “The only big problem may be that there are still objections from the residents. I don’t know if they are going to be successful in stopping the project. They’ve already received approval from the Planning Board. That was the biggest obstacle.”
In his eyes, Sabello doesn’t understand the negative feelings of the residents. Some have issued concerns about possible parking problems and traffic headaches that a project of that magnitude could mean to the area. Other concerns have centered on garbage removal, as well as putting a massive structure in an area that already has two housing projects, causing a possible wind tunnel.
“I’m really not concerned about it,” Sabello said. “I’ve lived with those same protests before, when we’ve done other projects in the past. When will it all stop? It seems as if the same element always makes the same noise.” Sabello said that it reminded him of a similar dilemma that took place some 15 years ago, when he was the director of the Guttenberg Housing Authority and was pushing for a senior citizen project on Boulevard East. “I fought like hell with the state and federal HUD (Housing and Urban Authority) to get that through,” Sabello said. “There were people then who complained about parking and traffic, just like this one. Everyone hated me back then, but I fought like hell, because I thought it was the best thing for the community. I even had (former U.S. Congressman) Frank Guarini personally take me to Newark for a hearing to get approval, because he was the chairman representing the area for HUD back then.
Added Sabello, “In the final analysis, I think it was the best thing that ever happened in Guttenberg. The people who live in that senior complex now are the happiest people in the world. I don’t hear complaints about that anymore.”
Some of Sabello’s council members, like David Delle Donna and Javier Inclan, have expressed their concerns about the size and the location of the development.
“It’s a tough call,” Delle Donna said. “There’s a definite need for affordable senior housing, but we have to weigh the effects on long-time residents against the benefits of our seniors.”
Sabello believes that the project will receive all approvals and move forward as planned.
“I cannot see any real obstacle at this point,” Sabello said. “It could be a real shot in the arm for the town. I think it’s going to become a reality. I don’t think they can muster enough strength to kill it. We’ve hit these obstacles before and we were always able to reconcile them. I think it can be taken care of.”
The matter will be discussed in further detail at the next township council meeting Monday night.