Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso is asking citizens to tell the township what they would like to see at the 28-acre site of the former U.S. Gypsum paper manufacturing plant on Raritan Road, across from Hyatt Hills Golf Complex and Senorita's Mexican Grill.
The mayor is mailing a survey (see it below) to all residents, asking for their opinions on how the town should zone the property. The factory was built in 1947 and operated as a paper manufacturer until its shuttering in August 2009. It has been on the market for more than a year.
Bonaccorso told Patch that a retail property (he couldn't reveal which) has made a deal to purchase the property pending they could get it rezoned from light industrial use to retail.
"I said to them, okay, good luck before the zoning board, and thought that was it," Bonaccorso told Patch. "Then they came back and said that because it was such a huge piece of land that they believed the zoning should actually be decided by the governing body as a change in the master plan. I talked to our attorney and he agreed that maybe a master plan update is needed, and because it's a project of major proportions we really want to feel the pulse of the community on this."
In March, we ran a story also asking residents what they'd like to see at the property. Of the 208 poll votes our story received, 28 percent of respondents said they'd like to see another industrial property, 23 percent said a shopping complex or strip mall, 17 percent said a mixed-use development, and 12 percent chose "other" and left us thoughts in the comments about what they'd like to see. Very few respondents chose housing or a hotel as their vote for the property's use.
Bonaccorso said he also really does not want to see housing at the property. However, he doesn't believe that the property will be able to be sold to another light industrial buyer.
"In this day and age, I think it would be impossible to find another light industrial," said Bonaccorso. "Who is building light industrial in New Jersey today?"
In our story, some readers suggested that the property become a park. Bonaccorso was firm on the impossibility of that when he spoke to Patch and asked residents to please not waste their survey responses by suggesting it.
"'I want a park' is not flying," Bonaccorso told Patch. "The property is worth somewhere in neighborhood of $17 million. We are not going to spend taxpayers' dollars to buy it and then another $5 million to turn it into a park and then get zero return in tax revenue. We also can't go to the county or Open Space or anyone else to make a park happen, because we already have had help with things like Esposito Park, Oak Ridge, Hyatt Hills. It's just not a viable choice this time."
Bonaccorso said he expects that there will not be agreement among all the residents as to what the property should become – "Those who live right there may feel differently than those on other side of town," he noted – but felt that residents needed to be involved in the process. He also expressed that residents must write their name and address on the survey so that no one can stuff the ballot box. Bonaccorso promises to make the responses public after they are received – residents can mail them back or drop them off at the municipal building.
"This is a big project in the center of Clark that we all are going to have to live with for the next 100 years. I want to hear from the residents," said Bonaccorso. "I also want them to understand if township doesn’t act in professional manor in this process, we're going to go to court. We can’t just keep saying no to someone who wants to rightfully sell his land. Eventually they could file a suit against Clark for being arbitrary and capricious."
Zoning has been a controversial discussion topic in Clark recently because of the sale of the who will build 39 townhomes where the former greenhouse was on Lake Avenue. Many residents urged the town to act to stop a multifamily use in an area of mostly single-family homes, some questioning why Clark couldn't just rezone the property.
Town officials, including the mayor, responded telling residents that the town had no power to change the zoning after an application on the property had been received and that the property had been zoned for multifamily housing since 1992.
Bonaccorso explained that the town does have an opportunity to rezone with the Gypsum property because the applicant is looking for a different use (retail) than what the property is currently zoned for (light industrial), as opposed to the Miele's case.
The survey being mailed to residents reads as follows:
At the outset I want to thank all our citizens for their participation in the last election. I feel humbled that you have once again put me in a leadership position to set the path of the Township for the next four years.
On a number of occasions it has been brought to the attention of both me and Council that the Township amends or updates the Master Plan and no one seems to be aware of its contents until a developer wants to erect something in their respective neighborhoods. This is not to imply that either my governing body or prior governing bodies have not followed the proper procedures. It only reflects that while the Township is functioning smoothly very few have something to discuss.
Now I am asking each of you to fill out a survey, so that I can reflect your thoughts, as to what we as a Township want to see on the US Gypsum site consisting of 28+/- acres. The site is presently zoned "Light Industrial". The present contract purchaser is seeking a "Zoning Change."
Kindly take the time to express your thoughts so that I can bring the consensus of the citizens to the Council and the Planning Board to develop an update to our Master Plan.
Do you want Housing? Yes No
Do you want Commercial Retail? Yes No
Do you want Office Space? Yes No
Do you want Commercial with Office? Yes No
If none of the above fit any of your thoughts please take the time to write your ideas and forward them to us in the enclosed envelope or drop them off at Town Hall, Room 24, on or before December 10.
Upon receipt of the survey and comments we will analyze your responses and advise each of you of the results.
Required Information: If not completed, survey will not be counted!
Thank you for taking the time to provide your input.
Will you fill out the survey? What's your vision for the property? Tell us in the comments.