TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie helped channel $6 million in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars to a project conceived years before the storm struck, in an Essex County town that was not particularly hard hit, records show.
The funding, pushed for personally by the Republican governor, was announced less than two weeks before the town’s Democratic mayor formally endorsed him for reelection.
The development is an $18 million senior center and housing complex in Belleville called Franklin Manor. One third of the cost — $6 million — is being paid for by a $1.8 billion pot of federally funded Community Development Block Grants to help the state recover from Sandy.
Christie administration officials say the project will help those displaced from the storm from other towns, and was approved partly because it was already planned and would quickly fill that need. But statements from the governor and officials from Essex County and Belleville at the project’s unveiling barely mentioned storm recovery, focusing almost exclusively on how the 137-unit housing project would help keep Belleville’s seniors in town.
The project, which had been in the works for years, was jump-started in the spring. In late April, Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble had a breakfast meeting with Christie and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo at McLoone’s Boathouse in West Orange. It was the same restaurant where the two men, along with many other Essex County Democrats, would endorse Christie on June 11.
On May 1, when The Star-Ledger asked about the breakfast meeting, Kimble said he planned to endorse Christie and “I think the governor is going to help the town of Belleville with certain projects we need.”
Interesting.. Check out this article from a May 2013 announcing the project:
Mill Street Development Urban Renewal, LLC is the developer of the project that will be located at the intersection of Franklin Street and Mill Street in Belleville. The front of the property at 125 Franklin Avenue is occupied by a one-story brick building, which is the Belleville Senior Center. This building will remain open. Mill Street Development Urban Renewal has entered into negotiations to purchase township-owned property and unused railroad property owned by Norfolk Southern railroad located behind the senior center site.
The proposal includes the first phase development of 86 units and a second phase of development of 51 units of senior housing. The building will have a community room, bocce courts, patio and garden area. Senior citizens who have a low to moderate income are eligible to apply for residence in the complex. “Since the project is located in one of the nine counties most impacted by Sandy, the project may assist senior citizens affected by the storm.” An application and process is currently being created and will be handled by the Mill Street Development Urban Renewal LLC. Construction is anticipated to start at the end of 2013.
Land acquisition and construction are estimated to cost about $18 million. The developer is seeking grant funding from the State of New Jersey Community Development Block Grant program, federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Financing Agency and the Essex County HOME program to subsidize the project.