Multimillion-Dollar Library Draws Ire from West Orange Residents who Fear Tax Abatement

West Orange Public Library 10 Rooney Circle New Jersey
In the Executive Drive redevelopment plan, the West Orange Public Library would find a new home in the renovated building at 10 Rooney Circle. Photo by Jersey Digs.

A multimillion-dollar grant could bring a state-of-the-art library to West Orange.

In a virtual walk-through, floor plans of the prospective site — a two-story building at 10 Rooney Circle — were presented at this week’s town council meeting to drum up support for a plan that has drawn a considerable crowd of critics.

West Orange Public Library 10 Rooney Circle New Jersey 2
In the new floor plan, designed by architect Anthony Iovino, the dark blue area is adult services, the yellow area is for young adults and children, the brown area is for staff space, and the light blue area is for common areas. Rendering by Arcari + Iovino.

Most residents agree that the current library has outlived its use, but they fear the plan — which is part of the controversial Executive Drive Office Park redevelopment plan — is in a remote location and will eventually be underwritten by a tax abatement.

For the past 62 years, the public library has been housed in an orange brick modernist building at 46 Mount Pleasant Avenue on the southernmost border near Orange. Not only has the local population grown over that time by about 10,000 residents, straining the library’s resources, but the so-called down-the-hill location has alienated residents, according to library director David Cubie. A geographically centered library, he believes, would engage new and lost patrons.

“What we’re aiming for is an expansion of services,” Cubie said, “to have library services at our current location and expand to a more central location.”

The new home, largely financed by the Library Construction Bond Act grant, would have about ten times as many parking spots, a larger collection on display, a black box theater, and a room dedicated to the New Jersey Historical Archives.

But objectors believe that just because the library is geographically centered, that doesn’t mean it is “convenient for all,” as it was described by the chair of the library’s board of trustees.

“As a long-standing resident of West Orange, one who’s paid a lot of taxes in this town, I just want to be on record saying I object to this entire process of moving the library to a remote area in the back section of Essex Green,” said a resident.

Environmental activists from Our Green West Orange questioned whether the plan met the criteria of the township’s sustainability ordinance. Signed in 2015, the ordinance requires a redevelopment plan to include a list of renewable energy sources, native plants, as well as the names of LEED professionals.

The plan presented to the town council only stipulates that the building meet the standards of LEED, instead of requiring it to be LEED-certified.

In a debate that turned heated, township attorney Robert Trenk called LEED certification a “poison pill” that would deter developers and warned that belaboring the issue could jeopardize the Library Construction Bond Act grant, which provides the town with $3.1 million for the project.

Bill Rutherford, a newly inaugurated council member, made a motion requiring LEED certification, but it was voted down in a 2-3 vote.

The U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification, told Jersey Digs they have noticed a trend of architects claiming their buildings are “built to LEED.”

“But means they haven’t gone through the third-party review to verify the work/claims,” said Sarah Stanley, communications director.

Stanley also believes the LEED certification eventually pays for itself.

“One 10-year study showed that LEED buildings saw an average of 3.7-percent rent premium and a 4-percent gain in occupancy over comparable non-certified properties,” Stanley said. “We also see cost becoming less of a concern as building owners and managers see significant operating cost savings, shorter payback periods and increased asset value.”  

Rutherford, who is positioning himself as the progressive lion of the council, believes the council is stonewalling the public by limiting public commentary in recent planning board and town council meetings, especially comments dealing with prospective tax abatements.

“We all know a PILOT is going to be introduced,” said Rutherford, referring to a payment in lieu of taxes. “So, let’s stop pretending.”


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