Military Contractor’s Contaminated Property Slated For Large Development in Avenel

WOODBRIDGE, NJ—It’s been just shy of a year since the abandoned General Dynamics facility in Woodbridge Township was demolished, and now the remediation of the contaminated property at 150 Avenel Street is underway.

The environmental cleanup is expected to culminate with a multi-phase, $50 million redevelopment project to create an "artists' village" in the footprint of the military contractor's former manufacturing plant.

The piece of prime real estate is located along the NJTransit train line between the Rahway and Woodbridge stations. 

On December 17, the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders finalized approval for a $6 million taxypayer-funded grant over the next five years for use on the 10,000-square-foot arts center component of the redevelopment project.

It's part of the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund, the same grant program that is also sending $6 million each to fund the rehabilition of the Ritz Theatre in Carteret, and to demolish and replace two New Brunswick theatres with a new venue in a highrise building.

Under the terms of the $6 million grant agreement, Woodbridge Township would be required to match the funds at a minimum of 50%.

That brings the minimum taxpayer investment in the "arts center" to $9 million through the next five years.

Middlesex County Administrator John Pulomena said the grant funds would not be permitted for use on any other component of the project, including the environmental remediation.

Only expenses related to the construction of the arts center would be considered appropriate uses of the money, Pulomena said.

"That's something that I'll be watching very closely," Pulomena told New Brunswick Today after the January 21 meeting of the Freeholder Board. 

In late 2014, Woodbridge Township was reportedly mulling borrowing $8 million to purchase the lot, when a developer known as Station Village at Avenel Urban Renewal, LLC stepped in at the last minute and purchased the property for $10 million from the previous owner, acquiring the deed in October 2014, according to county records.

The new developer's listed address, located in the Wilentz building at 90 Woodbridge Center Drive, is currently occupied by the Atlantic Realty Development Corporation.

Atlantic Realty's planned residential development for the site, which is located in a long-declared 'area in need of redevelopment,' includes 500 apartment units, 25,000 square feet of retail space, and a 10,000-square-foot arts center.

But before construction can begin on the Avenel Arts Village, the former industrial site – which hosts decades worth of toxic chemicals and heavy metals – will have to be cleaned up to the satisfaction of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A 2007 report, conducted as part of the township's efforts to deem the site in need of redevelopment, acknowledged that there were three phases of previous remediation performed by General Dynamics, but concluded that "environmental contamination remains on the property and will need to be addressed in the future to appropriately safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare."

The report does not describe what contaminants still remain, but noted the past presence of elevated levels of arsenic, zinc, and trichloroethylene, a chemical compound most commonly found in industrial solvents.

Currently, the remediation process is ongoing under the supervision of Marie Raser, a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) who works for the Rockaway-based firm EcolSciences, Inc.

Raser did not return repeated phone calls and emails from New Brunswick Today requesting information on the remediation process or the estimated timeframe for completion.

However, Larry Hajna, a spokesperson for the state DEP, said LSRPs are bound by state standards to ensure that the environmental clean-up is performed properly.

Hajna added that the DEP would have to sign off on the final remediation before development of the site could go forward.

"Basically, [the LSRP] is carrying out the sort of day to day activities of investigation and remediation," Hajna said in an interview with New Brunswick Today. "The LSRP would issue what is called a 'response action outcome' at the appropriate time and then we would review and make sure everything is in order.

"The clean-up would have to be to our residential standards," Hajna added. 

The development was approved by the Woodbridge Township Planning Board on January 21, 2015, according to documents provided by the municipality. 

The Woodbridge Township Council and Mayor Jon McCormac also authorized a 30-year tax break for the developer in 2014, which established a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT).

Under the agreement, the township granted Atlantic Realty a discount on its property taxes, ostensibly due to the cost of the neccessary environmental clean-up.

The revenue raised by the PILOT would be split between the township and county, 95% and 5%, respectively.  The township's school system would see no revenue from the property.

During the demolition of the General Dynamics facility, the developer estimated the first phase of construction was expected to begin in spring of 2016.

A representative of Atlantic Realty could not be immediately reached for comment on the current status of the project.