Bernardsville Redevelopment Project: Full Steam Ahead!

by: Anthony F. Della Pelle
21 Sep 2022

Last week, the Bernardsville Borough Council adopted a resolution approving a controversial designation of certain commercial properties on Olcott Square as an “area in need of redevelopment” pursuant to the New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A;1, et seq (“LRHL”).  The decision, approved by a 4-2 vote, was controversial because it rejected an earlier recommendation by the Bernardsville Planning Board that the area in question did not satisfy the statutory criteria to qualify as an “area in need of redevelopment” under the LRHL.

In August, the Planning Board held a public hearing where it received evidence, including testimony from a professional planner and public comment.  At that meeting, the Board adopted its resolution,  by a unanimous vote that held that the area did “not rise to the level of constituting dilapidation, faulty arrangement, obsolescence or any combination of these or other factors, so as to be detrimental to the safety, health and morals, or welfare of the community”.  The Board’s recommendation to the governing body was then rejected by the Borough Council at its meeting on September 12.

Although there was opposition to the redevelopment designation by members of the public who attended both in person and via Zoom, some supported the designation.  The properties located in the newly-designated redevelopment area are reported to be owned by former Mayor and County Commissioner Peter Palmer and his wife.

Under the LRHL, the designation gives the Borough the power to adopt a redevelopment plan which can create new or additional zoning for the properties in the area and to provide some controls over any redevelopment through a redevelopment agreement with any designated 2022-9-12 Borough Council Resolution redeveloper.  Also of significance is the fact that the Borough’s designation does not permit any of the properties in the area to be taken via the power of eminent domain.  Prior to 2013, all redevelopment designations in New Jersey pursuant to the LRHL automatically provided municipal agencies to use eminent domain to undertake redevelopment projects within their boundaries.  However, the LRHL was amended in 2013 to create two different types of redevelopment designations and projects:  a traditional redevelopment project authorizing eminent domain, and a “non-condemnation” redevelopment area which permits towns to utilize all redevelopment powers under the LRHL except for the power of eminent domain.  More information on this amendment to the law, which was intended to expand redevelopment opportunities without involving the contentious issue of eminent domain, and created a new option for NJ municipalities, is available in this article by MROD partner Anthony DellaPelle.

Since Bernardsville’s designation of the “Olcott Square” redevelopment area does not avail the Borough of the power of eminent domain, any future redevelopment will be undertaken by either the current owner or any buyer of the property who could then seek to be designated as the “redeveloper” for the project.  We’ll keep an eye on this project as it is occurring in our “backyard”.