More than a year since the proposal for an in-and-out shopping center hit the drafting table, machines are scooping a cutout from the cliffs off River Road in North Bergen to make room for a Walgreens, a Bank of America and a Starbucks . Meanwhile, township officials are still trying to dig out of what they call a mountain of misinformation.
For one thing, opponents have said the project would “destabilize” Boulevard East by removing 700,000 cubic yards of rock, vegetation and soil. The township puts the figure closer to 100,000.
The three one-story buildings — across from Palisades General Medical Center — will each be about 30 feet high, leaving more than 100 feet of “cleaned and enhanced” cliffs above them, said Township Administrator Chris Pianese.
Combined, they “will provide a needed amenity without damaging the environment in any way,” said Pianese.
He cited a dearth of retail along River Road from City Place in Edgewater to the Riverwalk development in West New York — a stretch of exactly two miles — except for a gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts attached at the foot of Bulls Ferry Road.
Locals who live nearby “will be able to fill a prescription, cash a check or buy a cup of coffee without causing unnecessary traffic and pollution,” while the township can expect roughly $200,000 a year in additional tax revenue, he said.
Residents and environmentalists sparred with North Bergen officials for more than a year before the Hudson County Planning Board approved the project last month.
The board added a condition, however: The developer must produce engineering reports that include, among other things, exactly how much dirt is going to be removed.
Many still fear the development could cause mudslides — or worse. They point to Church Hill Estates — barely a mile north of the site — which already has had several mudslides that flooded the area below.
Pianese, in turn, emphasized that North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco “insisted on hiring an outside firm to investigate” these concerns as soon as they were raised.
“We brought in Oweis Engineering, an experienced, capable Geotechnical Engineering company with no ties to the developer, who submitted a report saying that if approached properly the project can absolutely be built safely,” the township administrator said.
North Bergen sold part of the property at a public auction to Paramus-based Avak Properties LLC. Soon after, earth-moving machines were on the site, knocking down buildings and clearing trees.
Although all systems are go, township officials still want people to know that they didn’t recklessly.
“At the end of the day,” Pianese said, “the facts about the AVAK project are simple: It will provide a service to North Bergen residents while not harming the environment and generating approximately $200,000 per year in tax revenue. That’s why Mayor Sacco, the Board of Commissioners and myself are supporting it.”
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