New Church Street has been transformed in recent weeks with the demolition of nine homes, including six along the west side of the street.
The homes were razed as part of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s Blue Acres program, which aims to purchase flood-prone properties. About 20 residential properties in the city were acquired last year, including nine properties on New Church Street.
Another five properties on Central Avenue were purchased, along with two on Hamilton Street, and one each on Main Street, Essex Street, Elm Avenue and Baumann Court. A map of the properties with details on each can be found here.
The 20 properties were acquired by the state for a total of about $5.118 million, or an average of $255,934. The properties had a total tax assessment before demolition of about $2,556,900, or an average of about $127,845, with total property taxes of $161,971, or an average of about $8,098. As part of the Blue Acres program, the state acquires the properties and razes the homes and the city agrees to maintain the land as open space. Tax assessments, property taxes, and sale prices for all the properties can be found in this spreadsheet.
Tax assessments on the properties eventually will be strictly on the land once the buildings are razed and since they’re now owned by the state DEP, the assessments will be exempt from property taxes. For some context on how that might impact the municipal budget, about $149,000 in tax revenue is generated for every $13.30 in municipal taxes on the average home (assessed at $133,000).
In 2015, City Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the state DEP to accept applications for properties to be acquired by the state through negotiations with property owners. Most of the 30 properties identified for acquisition are located near the Robinson’s Branch of the Rahway River. I’m no engineer but if you look at the path of the Robinson’s Branch on the map, you can see it snakes through the New Church Street neighborhood, creating an almost U-shape surrounding some of these homes. If the banks of the river are overflowing during a big storm, it’s pretty easy to imagine the water spilling over into those properties.
Funding for the buyouts is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HGMP); the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program; the Blue Acres fund and the State Land Acquisition (Urban) fund.