Town of Westfield
(The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mayor Brindle on July 14, 2021.)
Can you imagine being able to buy locally grown organic produce all year round from a farm in Westfield? Or attending adult education classes about indoor farming right in our own backyard? How about having a local place where school kids can learn about healthy eating habits and grow their own food, or a desperately needed “urban chic” event space?
All of this is now possible as a result of last night’s 8-1 vote by the Town Council adopting an ordinance supporting a redevelopment plan to convert the Handler Building at 610 North Avenue into a hydroponic vertical farm.
While I’m very excited about the potential of this new Westfield business, I’m most proud of how this administration made it happen, and the positive signal it sends to other potential investors and entrepreneurs who may now consider setting up shop in Westfield.
For some background, Greg Redington, CEO of REDCOM LLC, and architect Michele Modestino approached the Town last year expressing an interest in buying the Handler Building and turning it into an indoor, vertical hydroponic farm, inspired by the food insecurity and supply chain challenges that were exposed during the pandemic.
Their vision for Redi-Farms reflected many of the priorities of this administration and our community: strategic economic development, historic preservation and adaptive reuse of an older building, sustainability, equity and inclusion — all wrapped into one proposal!
There was one glitch, and it was significant. The Handler Building was included in the Town’s 2013 Affordable Housing plan, and zoned for residential use, meaning the only development allowed was a 27-unit residential apartment building that included six affordable housing units. Fortunately, because of our good standing with the Fair Share Housing Center, they were amenable to allowing the transfer of our six unit affordable housing obligation to another site, as long as the development of that new site was imminent.
Around the same time, the Town received a call from the prospective developer of the Williams Nursery site, who was preparing an application for the construction of a 130-unit apartment building there, as that site has been in the Town’s Affordable Housing Plan since 1991. An agreement was soon reached among the parties to allow for the transfer of the affordable housing units by increasing the density on the Williams site, which was subsequently approved and adopted by the Town Council, enabling last night’s adoption of the Handler vertical farm redevelopment plan.
The net result of the six unit affordable housing transfer is that, in lieu of an apartment building on North Avenue, Westfield is instead gaining a local vertical farm which will be an economic development driver with significant social impact potential. It’s also very gratifying that Redi-Farms is being created by two Westfield residents who are also successful business owners and employers as Founder/CEO of REDCOM. In a significant vote of confidence, they are investing in Westfield for a second time, validating our strategy to use the tools of redevelopment for the first time in Town history to signal to business owners and investors that Westfield is open for business!
The opening of Redi-Farms next year provides Westfield an opportunity to be a leader in the growing green economy, having demonstrated our commitment to sustainability by attaining silver certification by Sustainable NJ for the first time ever this past year. We are furthering those efforts as we activate six new EV charging stations in municipal parking lots this week, and will soon be welcoming Karma, a new EV auto dealership on North Avenue scheduled to open next month. Redi-Farms will only further burnish our reputation as an environmental and economic development leader by making Westfield an eco-destination in the region. Special thanks to our Planning and Zoning team — including Town Planner Don Sammet and redevelopment planners at Topology — as well as to the Town Council for their support in making this transformative vision a reality.