The Westfield Planning Board and Town Council are moving at breakneck speed during the pandemic lockdown to incentivize large-scale development and fundamentally change the character of our Town. Whether it’s rewarding a developer who spent millions to buy a slew of South Avenue properties to build dense housing, providing big tax breaks to wealthy Downtown landlords or designating our parking lots as sites for future parking garages—there’s clearly a lot going on.
We’ve heard terms thrown around like ‘Area in Need of Redevelopment’, ‘preliminary investigation’ and ‘PILOT’. There are surely more of these technical terms to come, as the Town seeks to paint large-scale development as essential for Westfield’s survival--although we’ve survived 300 years without it.
If you’ve had trouble keeping up with all of this, here’s a primer for concerned taxpayers:
Area in Need of Rehabilitation: When the Town says a commercial property is old and shouldn’t pay higher taxes when it’s fixed up, while yours go up every year.
Area in Need of Redevelopment: When the Town lets something become derelict, then uses NJ law to force expensive new development, typically for the exclusive benefit of developers and business owners.
Preliminary Investigation: When the Town has an expensive idea you probably won’t like, they pay a consultant to tell you how great that idea is.
Transit Oriented Development: When the Town builds dense housing/retail development around the train station that results in you no longer being able to get a seat on the train.
Parking Structure/Tiered Parking: A parking garage, usually costing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, that you’ll never park in because the rates are too expensive. And you’ll get a ticket too, because that’s the only way towns pay for expensive parking garages.
Obsolete: A term the Town uses to describe something that’s already paid for and won’t maintain, so it can borrow a ton of money to build something new on the same spot.
PILOT: When the Town takes a big pot of money up front from a developer and uses it to plug holes in the municipal budget. When that money runs out in a few years, the Town will raise your taxes to make up for it.
Public-Private Partnership: When the Town can’t afford to build something big it brings in a developer, who makes a huge profit while the Town takes on significant long-term debt but calls the project a success.
Princeton: A Central Jersey town anchored by a major university that spent millions to build a large parking deck and public space for its Downtown. Some folks in our Town, rather than moving there themselves, want to turn Westfield into another Princeton.
Bold Action Plan: Your Town + Overdevelopment + Millions in Debt = A Town resembling some place you’d like to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. Nor could you afford to.