ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — The 20-acre Unilever campus is at the center of a battle between the local government and a developer, which is including the affordable-housing requirement in its latest proposal for the site.
Normandy Real Estate Partners, which owns the property and lost its bid to redevelop it in October, has filed a motion with the state Superior Court, requesting that the 20-acre site at 800 Sylvan Ave. be included in the borough’s inventory of developable land. It proposes building 30 residential units per acre to help satisfy the borough’s obligation to provide housing for low- and moderate-income residents.
"The availability and capacity of the 800 Sylvan property … are critical factors in the resolution of this issue," a brief supporting the motion says. "800 Sylvan is both uniquely affected by the resolution of that issue and uniquely qualified to address it in the present proceedings."
Borough officials have not taken kindly to the firm’s request.
Mayor Mario Kranjac said Englewood Cliffs, which is in the process of revising its vacant land analysis, will fight Normandy’s efforts to intervene.
"Normandy’s ‘new’ plan for 800 Sylvan is excessive and driven by profits at the expense of our borough, its residents, the environment and our view-shed, as it will destroy the environment and far exceed our 35-foot building height limitation," Kranjac wrote in a statement.
Normandy, operating as 800 Sylvan Avenue LLC, plans to set aside either 15 or 20 percent of the 600 units proposed for the site for affordable housing. The final number would depend on whether the building is all or partially composed of rental units.
In October, the borough’s Planning Board rejected the firm’s original proposal to subdivide the Unilever campus into two lots, renovate and expand existing buildings on the site and build two parking garages. The application required 16 variances and, the Planning Board said, did not "preserve the campus-like property envisioned by the Master Plan."
Normandy still proposes splitting the site, zoned as a Limited Business District, in two: The first 20-acre lot would provide the space for affordable housing, and a remaining 8-acre lot, where Unilever still leases offices, would be left alone.
The firm would need to demolish two interconnected industrial buildings on the 20-acre lot to make way for the residential units.
Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center, said the borough’s affordable-housing obligation stands at more than 600 units.
Englewood Cliffs submitted a fair share plan in 2015 that proposed a realistic development potential of nine units based on 7.2 acres of reported vacant land. A judge ordered a redo.
"It’s simply not acceptable and makes no sense," Campisi said of the number. "Englewood Cliffs at this point is moving exceedingly slowly to develop a plan to meet their fair housing obligations, and we go months and months without hearing from them. They have not been very committed to the process."
Kranjac said the borough is working diligently to develop an affordable-housing plan "at a reasonable location, in a reasonable time frame."
Campisi said developers who have sought intervention in such plans have had a mixed record of success. For some housing-strapped municipalities, an offer like Normandy’s can be hard to resist, he said.
"When there’s a developer who says, ‘I’m ready to go; I just need this zoning release,’ that becomes very attractive," Campisi said. "It becomes difficult for a municipality to say no to that."
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