SAYREVILLE, NJ—Along the Raritan River waterfront sits 418 acres of land that a national developer plans to transform into “Riverton,” a $2.5 billion mixed-use development.
The land, near one of the busiest sections of the Garden State Parkway, was once home to a paint factory owned by NL Industries.
Previously known as National Lead, the company was responsible for manufacturing lead-based paints until such products were banned by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Their contaminated land has “sat dormant for decades and in recent years has been remediated,” said North American Properties (NAP), the developer hoping turn it into the largest mixed-use project in the state.
“The project will create a downtown village setting, [with] retail, restaurants, office space hotels, parks and a marina,” reads the developer's November 2017 news release.
Riverton is also set to include some 2,000 residences, including both apartments and townhouses on the site of the former paint-making operation that shuttered in 1982.
According to NAP, Riverton will be one of the biggest "brownfield" remediations in New Jersey history, using land use lingo for a contaminated site.
“Brownfield reclamation, which includes rehabilitating former factory sites and landfills, is fraught with development challenges, both regulatory and otherwise,” reported the trade publication Construction Dive, adding that, as land becomes increasingly scarce in certain areas of the US, “developers are willing to put up with the hassle of turning those places into money making properties.”
NAP’s managing partner, Mark Toro, a New Jersey native and Rutgers Universtiy graduate who is now based in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “We create great, walkable places that connect people to each other; cities to their souls… and individuals to experiences that move them.”
Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, who has been championing the project for years, dubbed it the “Main Street of the 21st Century.”
The redevelopment of the site has been in the works for over a decade, with the Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA) acquiring the 900-acre property nearly thirteen years ago for $39 million.
"It's a great vote of confidence for the people of Sayreville" that the county agreed to provide the funds, Mayor O'Brien was quoted as saying in 2004.
In a post on its website, the MCIA says it is “assisting the Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Agency (SERA) to revitalize the site.”
The county's investment was reportedly very important for O’Neill Properties, another player that was involved until its stake in the project was bought out by NAP’s partner, PGIM, the global investment management arm of Prudential.
The state Economic Development Authority (EDA) also approved $223 million in financing under the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth program, by far the largest award in the program's history.
But that was for a prior iteration of the planned redevelopment, one that was more of a mega-mall than a mixed-use community. The latest concept for the site was unveiled in late 2017.
Many approvals are still required from state and local agencies, and construction would not be completed until 2021 at the earliest.
NL Industries, based in Dallas, reportedly contributed $40 million to help clean up the site, but in recent years, it has been taken to court over the contamination of another industrial site across the river in Woodbridge Township.
The Dallas Observer reported that EPEC Polymers, the company that owned the land across the Raritan, sued NL in 2012 for the cost of remediating its own property after finding radioactive waste, allegedly NL's waste that was dredged up when the Army Corps of Engineers widened the river in the 1930's and 1940's.
“A judge found that NL could be held liable as an owner/operator and arranger under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, Lexology reported. As of January 2017, the U.S. was in mediation regarding the Army Corp of Engineers' role, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report,” reported Construction Dive's Kim Slowey.
In another case, NL Industries is suing the State of New Jersey for its role in the construction of a seawall in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge that used "slag," an industrial byproduct, that had been produced at one of NL's factories in Perth Amboy.
With the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding that NL remediate the site, the company sued the state government under New Jersey's Spill Act because some of the seawall was built on state property.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed the state government could be held liable in March 2017, and remanded the case for a trial, overturning a ruling by the Appellate Division.