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HomeMedford NewsResidents protest redevelopment at Route 70 and Eayrestown Road

Residents protest redevelopment at Route 70 and Eayrestown Road

The courtroom at Medford’s public safety building was all but empty last week when residents arrived by the dozen to the township’s council and planning board meetings where discussion of a controversial redevelopment project was dominant.

The area where some are hopeful (and others are not so hopeful) that a multi-use redevelopment project called Medford Crossings will go is on both the north and south sides of Route 70 and Eayrestown Road.

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The project received permits and approvals from township council and the planning board in 2006 and 2007, but when the initial redeveloper filed for bankruptcy in 2007, the project was stalled.

According to township officials, at that time the township began working to get the matter out of bankruptcy court and back on the market. Through litigation, the township recovered over $400,000 in costs spent in negotiating the initial redevelopment agreements and in the approval process as well as approval to enter into negotiations with potential takeover redevelopers, officials said.

Lennar Corporation was named conditional redeveloper of the project this summer and, in February, Council approved a resolution that established a preliminary agreement between the township and Medford Village East.

If ultimately approved, Medford Crossings would bring more than 600,000 square feet of commercial and residential property to both the north and south sides of Route 70 and Eayrestown Road.

According to project documents, Medford Crossings includes a maximum of 750 residential units that would consist of one and two bedroom apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes. The plans include 72 units aimed at fulfilling part of the township’s affordable housing requirements.

Plans also include 560,000 square feet of commercial space including plans for public parking lots, offices, retail space, and restaurants. Plans for a potential municipal complex and library are also built in.

Officials said the township would receive payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), allowing the township to receive a larger portion of the local purpose tax than normal. According to Township Solicitor Richard Hunt, the township would receive about $70 million in PILOT’s over the course of 30 years, a number that is twice as large as what they would receive through conventional taxation.

During last week’s meeting, Township Solicitor Richard Hunt said Lennar would pay full purchase price for the property and that the township would bond up to $35 million for the project, which will be paid with revenue from the PILOTS. Lennar would bond the remainder of the costs.

Hunt said the developer would be subject to letters of credit to protect the township from potential shortfalls.

Dozens of residents took turns speaking at last week’s meetings, most in opposition to the project.

Several brought up concerns that surrounding roads aren’t built to handle all of the traffic that so much residential and commercial activity would bring in.

“You already have traffic issues,” resident Patrick Hauch, a fairly new resident who left last week’s meeting concerned he moved into the wrong community, said ”What’s this going to introduce?”

Others were concerned about the PILOT payments, and their true benefit to Medford taxpayers, as well as the cost an influx of students moving into the residential properties will have on Medford schools.

After reading the MOU agreement, resident Bill Love submitted a list of concerns to Council that he wanted addressed, many of them pertaining to the PILOT agreements.

Love said officials have mislead the public by stating that the PILOT funds will far exceed what the town would receive from conventional taxation.

“Medford is comprised of many constituents including our fine schools It appears most PILOT funds will go to the town fathers ot solve their budget problem. Normally, only a small part of conventional real estate taxes for local purpose taxes and the majority goes to school funding,”

Love said that notion is critical because Medford receives very little state and federal funding to support its schools.

“This PILOT program is robbing our schools of much needed funds. There has been no negotiation with the schools regarding this matter despite the fact that this development with children may add several million to school costs annually,” Love said.

Hunt said there would be discussion with the local school boards to decide how much of the PILOTs would be transferred to fund schools over 30 years.

Officials also said the landowner, Stephen Samost, is allowed develop the land if he wants to and that the Medford Crossings Project represents a vast improvement form what the property owner originally wanted to build there.

“He (Samost) owns property, he has the right to develop it,” Councilman Dave Brown said during last week’s Council meeting “We’ve been fighting it. We’re really trying to get the best deal for Medford. This is not a done deal yet and we’ll listen to you”

Not all officials are on board with the project, including Councilwoman Victoria Fay who was not permitted to return to her spot on the township planning board last week via a temporary court order that allowed her to return to her Council seat.

“Medford is facing several major problems, one of which is a $7 million dollar budget deficit and another is a massive development that will change the character of Medford forever,“ Fay said in a recent statement.

Last week, Councilman Bob Martin, who lives in the project vicinity, also said he didn’t want Medford Crossings to come to Medford

“I’ve lived here for 64 years, my whole life, this town means a lot to me,” Martin said. “I don’t want this development there. Can we stop this from happening? I don’t know if we can.”

Officials said more discussion on the topic would take place before any decisions are made.

Discussion of the Medford Crossings project is slated to continue at the March 23 planning board meeting.

Council is scheduled to meet for their next regular action meeting in March 7.

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