By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Four Montclair community organizations have been told that their free leases at 11 Pine St. are up and they will have to vacate by Nov. 30.
Sister to Sister, Brother to Brother, Succeed2gether and Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (S.O.F.I.A.) have been in the 6,000 square foot space in the Bay Street Station residences since 2012 under an agreement between the township and the developer/owner of the building.
The groups and the township, which subleases the space out to the community groups at no cost, received notice last month that owner Lincoln Property Company is selling and the groups will have to move out in November.
Sister to Sister board member Evelyn Gay called into the Sept. 21 Montclair Township Council meeting asking for the council’s help. The group hosts programs and mentors girls, mostly from the Fourth Ward, in fourth through 12th grade. It also opens its computer room in the Pine Street building on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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“The space is in their neighborhood. It’s walkable,” she said.
Tamisa Covington, board president of S.O.F.I.A, which provides domestic violence victims and survivors with assistance, told the council her group relies heavily on the space.
“All of us are a collaborative group, S.O.F.I.A., Succeed2gether, Brother to Brother and Sister to Sister. It makes our community that much better. We don’t have a lot of resources. We hope the new owner can see the impact we have,” she said about the not-for-profit organizations, which offer support to students and families.
Gay told Montclair Local the organizations have have been on a month-to-month lease for about three years.
In a phone interview, Township Attorney Ira Karasick said the deal between the township and the developer to provide a community space had actually expired in 2017. But, he said, the owner “had graciously” allowed the groups to stay on month to month.
A 2001 redevelopment plan states that the redeveloper was to provide Montclair Township with up to 14,000 square feet of floor space in the redevelopment area, at no cost.
“Such space located within the redevelopment area shall be utilized in any manner permitted by the redevelopment plan and approved by the Township. Permissible uses for the municipally controlled space may include, but are not limited to, day care facilities, community space and/or space designed to promote public safety,” the agreement reads.
The redevelopment was planned around the Bay Street Station, which replaced Lackawanna Terminal in 1981, and which in 2002 gave riders direct access to New York City by way of the Montclair Connection once NJ Transit reconfigured the track system.
The redevelopment, which was fully completed in 2017, consisted of a new train station, a parking deck and 163 apartments on land owned by NJ Transit, the township and private owners.
Because not-for-profit daycare center Day Nurseries would be displaced with the redevelopment, the township and developer came up with an agreement in which the township would sublease the community space on the first floor of the residences to Day Nurseries, Karasick said.
Day Nurseries went out of business during the buildout and a new not-for-profit child care facility, Neighborhood Daycare, was to take over the space. The developer put up $259,000, and a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant was secured in 2011 to retrofit space as a daycare facility. One of the grant’s caveats was that Neighborhood Daycare would have to remain for five years, or the township would have to pay back the grant. But in 2012 when the space was ready, Neighborhood Daycare never moved into the space due to “financial irregularities,” Karasick said.
In order for the township to keep the space and not have to pay back the grant, the township had to secure other organizations that would meet the criteria for the grant, and Sister to Sister, Brother to Brother, S.O.F.I.A. and Succeed2gether moved into the space. The developer amended the lease to allow for the groups to move in.
Although the 2001 redevelopment plan does not give a timeline for the township’s use of the space, subsequent agreements did — resulting in the 2017 expiration — Karasick said.
“This location has been a great resource for community groups that do great work for the township. I hope any transfer of ownership respects that relationship and considers the value these groups bring to the community,” Councilman David Cummings, who represents the Fourth Ward, said at the Township Council meeting. Council members didn’t otherwise address the issue when callers phoned about losing the space, and Karasick told the public at the time he couldn’t speak about the issue.
Karasick would not comment on what the township is pursuing for the groups, only to tell Montclair Local both the current and incoming owners of the property “are aware of the groups’ desire to stay in the space.”
Brother to Brother, which mentors young men, and Succeed2gether, which provides enrichment and academic programs to children in need, have not yet returned messages for comment left Wednesday and Thursday.