High-end rental units coming to site of former trailer park

Seen as anchor to redevelopment around light rail

The former trailer park just north of 48th Street on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen is about to be razed. The township has approved a resolution to redevelop the property for a rental community comprising 214 units.
The property is directly adjacent to the Tonnelle Avenue Light Rail stop, which is expected to make the new development popular with commuters.
A PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the developer, James Demetrakis of Edgewater, will initially bring in $500,000 per year in taxes once the project reaches substantial completion. That amount will increase over the 30-year term of the agreement to a minimum of about $800,000 a year. PILOTS allow developers to avoid regular fluctuating property taxes that go to the schools, county, and city, and instead make previously agreed-to payments to the city.
Property taxes collected on the land were well under $100,000 in 2014.
“It’s a fantastic project,” said Township Administrator Chris Pianese. “It will absolutely kick-start that area. You have a prime restaurant location across the street that’s closed. Somebody should buy that real soon knowing there will be 214 units across the street.”

“This will have a very positive effect… I’m very optimistic about what this will do to that area of the town.” –Mayor Nicholas Sacco
“This will have a very positive effect on the rest of the area,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco. “I believe you’ll see other upscale buildings come into the neighborhood. There are former factories that can be converted into much better use. Services will be in demand again. I’m very optimistic about what this will do to that area of the town.”
Another vacant plot of land just to the south, between 47th and 48th streets, was already slated for development. “That’s a smaller building, about 40 units,” said Pianese. Public discussion regarding that building had revealed neighborhood concerns about the size of the structure and the availability of parking in the area.
“We negotiated with that developer,” said Pianese. “They came back to the board after a lot of discussions about downsizing. It was too aggressive. It lacked parking. That’s projected to be like half of what it originally was, as a result of neighborhood feedback.”

Parking and schools a major concern

“Our biggest thing is parking,” said a resident who lives near the trailer park. “We definitely want [the new development] here because it will bring up the property value. But we’re very, very tight on parking because of the light rail. People come here, park, and take the light rail. And because they have a North Bergen sticker, we can’t do anything. We’ve got old people here. They can’t park a mile away with groceries.”
“We really pushed on parking because we know that area is tough to park,” said Pianese. “We wanted a minimum of 1.5 spaces per unit and they were able to deliver that.”
The projection is for 321 parking spaces for the new development, all onsite. In addition, “There’s a parcel in the back of the trailer park that is being dedicated to the community,” said Pianese. “We are considering public parking there, or a small, passive park with benches and grass. We’re going to feel out the neighborhood to see what they’d prefer. The developer will foot the bill regardless of what it is.”
Because of the location next to the light rail, the development is expected to attract commuters, who are less prone to have multiple cars.
Another concern was adding new students to an already overburdened school system. Because of the commuter nature of the building, it is not expected to contain a lot of school-age children. However, as part of the PILOT agreement, a limit of 20 school children from the development are permitted to enter North Bergen schools for free. Above that, the development is required to pay full tuition costs for any students entering the school system.
Renderings of what the development will look like or how many buildings are going up were unavailable at press time. The property is expected to have high-end amenities including a clubhouse, pool, fitness center, and more.
The bulk of the units, 125 in total, will be one-bedroom, with 53 two-bedroom units, and 36 studios. Rents are projected to average around $2,300 per unit.

Contentious history

The history of the property over the past half-decade was fraught with controversy and rancor. The owners of the individual trailers on the property were evicted a few years ago after a long and unpleasant court battle with the landlord.
“What we had here was a dilapidated trailer park that fell into disrepair,” said Mayor Sacco of the site. “When it was originally there it was popular. But once the owner passed away and it began to be vacated it got worse and worse.”
The property at 4828 Tonnelle Ave. was established as Manhattan Trailer Park about 65 years ago, according to caretaker Luis Santana, who at age 64 has been working there half his life. He is the last resident of the now fenced-in park, living in a trailer next to the office.
At one time the property facing it on the opposite side of Tonnelle Avenue housed the New York Trailer Park. Both parks were owned by Julius Wassil. New York Trailer Park, the smaller of the two properties, mostly catered to transient units and buses, with only 16 permanent units.
Manhattan Trailer Park housed more than 100 semi-permanent homes, many with attractive flourishes like porches and patios built by the owners. The cost to rent space in the trailer park was under $400 a month, including water and sewage fees.
“It was really nice,” said a neighbor who has lived in the area for more than 30 years. “People took care of the property, they had flowers. It was like a little bit of the countryside. And then the owner died and everything went to hell.”
When Wassil passed away about eight years ago, his family decided to sell the Manhattan Trailer Park to developers. That’s when things got complicated. The owners of the trailers residing on the land were given the option of buying the property but were unable to come up with the purchase price.
Attorneys for the Wassil family then offered the unit owners $700,000 in buyout incentives to encourage them to leave, along with $100,000 in legal fees. At the time it was estimated that between 50 and 71 unit owners still lived on the property.
Prior to this, the state had purchased the New York Trailer Park across the street in order to build the light rail station, buying out all the unit owners at higher prices. Perhaps emboldened by this, the unit owners rejected the $700,000 offer. “They wanted more money,” said Santana.
They didn’t get it. Ultimately the property owners rescinded their offer and the matter went to court as the owners battled unsuccessfully to stay on the property.
They were eventually evicted and received no buyout payments. The township helped relocate some owners to public housing. Others moved on to trailer parks in different towns.
“Nobody wanted to move their trailers because they were too old,” said Santana. “If you move it, in less than one year it’s going to start leaking.”
As a result, the property now holds 78 abandoned trailers slowly disappearing in a field of weeds. The first task of the new developers will be to remove all those trailers and empty the property.
“I believe they’re starting that soon,” said Pianese. “I know the developer wanted to have a fall start date in terms of shovels in the ground. Between now and fall they need to clear the entire development.”
The project is expected to create approximately 200 construction jobs while it is being built and 10 full time or part time jobs upon completion.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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