During a special meeting on January 29th, the Riverdale Planning Board “partially”approved the land use change application of the Albanian Associated Fund for 90 Riverdale Road. The board heard testimony from the applicants who addressed questions from both board members and the public regarding membership, parking and the various intended uses for the 57,000 sq.ft. building. Ironically, Scott Berkowitz, a Jewish entrepreneur who owns EVS Metals across the street from the site, testified in support of the association; applauding their desire to preserve their heritage for future generations.
Though some supporters felt that anyone who opposed the application was a racist, no such comments came from the residents who attended. Instead concerns raised were focused mainly on the loss in tax revenue. The current zoning brings in about $83,000 in property taxes for the borough, as a religious center that would all go away. To put it in perspective, it would take a 1 1/2% tax increase to replace that revenue (that’s about $100/year per household).
The problem is, by law, the board cannot consider the loss in tax revenue when deciding a land use change application claiming inherently beneficial use. Churches, schools, hospitals and even cell towers all fall into this category. They can only weigh the potentially negatives effects against the stated benefits to the community; the community being defined regionally, not as the municipality in which the land in question resides.
There was one aspect of the application, however, that the board could not quite come to terms with. How would an organization with only 135 members (families) fully utilize a 57,000 sq.ft. building? All of the uses stated would only account for about 50% of the building. Although the applicant had no answer for this, they stated that a portion of the building is currently being leased on a month-to-month basis and suggested that, if allowed, they could continue to lease the unused space. This is where the “partially” comes in.
Board Member Sal Poli proposed a unique compromise in which the board would approve 50% of the property for the applied use while the other 50% would remain zoned commercial/industrial. Chairman Al Heimal seconded the motion with the provision that center would limit parking to their property alone. The motion passed 6 to 1 with the only dissenting vote coming from Vice Chairman Glenn Venza who did not believe that the proposed Mosque/Cultural Center met the criteria for inherently benefit use. Although he ultimately voted in favor of the motion, Board Member Michael Reilly felt that the application, which referred only to a Community Center, was submitted under false pretenses. How much of the tax revenue that will be preserved is yet to be determined. If the association finds a qualified used for the rest of the facility, they will need to reapply for a land use change for the balance of the property. Until then, kudos to Sal Poli for finding a way to preserve as least a portion of the tax revenue.