TEANECK, N.J. -- Teaneck officials say an upcoming vote to rezone a stretch of land to allow multi-family housing near a railroad line is based on nothing more than keeping the property on the tax rolls.
The World of Wings butterfly museum put the site up for sale this summer.
"The last time that happened, two non-profits bid for it," Deputy Mayor Elie Katz said. "One of the hospitals might have been interested, too -- making three non-profits.
"This is the third- or fourth-largest taxpayer property in Teaneck. If we lose it, that burden shifts to the residents. We also lose the opportunity to signal to developers that we're open for business."
Mayor Lizette Parker didn't attend the Nov. 10 meeting at which the council voted 5-0 to introduce a rezoning ordinance. Councilman Jason Castle left early, with a statement opposing residential development based on a potential train threat.
Several citizens expressed similar concerns that trains hauling dangerous crude oil through the area could possibly derail and cause a massive fire.
Others say council members are rolling out the red carpet for AvalonBay Communities, whose luxury Edgewater complex was destroyed by a fast-moving January fire.
AvalonBay has informally proposed nearly 250 apartments for the site, on a cul-de-sac at the end of Windsor Road.
Resident Andriane Raff Corwin told council members they have an "ethical responsibility to make sure that you do not put more people in danger.”
Teaneck "is at a crossroads," Katz countered. "There are undeveloped properties, vacant land, no commercial tax base. We can either reduce services or bring in new developments that will subsidize our tax burden."
The railroad splits the town, leaving most of Teaneck within a half-mile -- the distance that federal authorities recommend for the nearest housing to freight tracks.
"We're not going to not build within a half-mile," Katz said. "That's all of Teaneck."
The council can make the zoning change at its next public meeting. The Planning Board would then consider developers' proposals.
"The owners are going to sell -- it's just a matter of who buys it," Katz said. "We want multi-family. We want commercial. We're just trying to prevent us from losing the ratable."