Rubber Plant Site Bounces Back

Sept. 28, 2010

Redeveloping brownfields for use as residential or commercial properties is not only an excellent way to clean up former industrial sites and improve the surrounding environment, it can also jump start smart planning and urban revitalization.

Redeveloping brownfields for use as residential or commercial properties is not only an excellent way to clean up former industrial sites and improve the surrounding environment, it can also jump start smart planning and urban revitalization.

The growth of Butler, N.J., is linked to the development of the rubber industry in the area, dating to 1869. The continuous takeover of the smaller rubber companies led to the formation of the Rubber Comb and Jewelry Company in 1876. Richard Butler was elected President of this company, whichbecame known as the Butler Hard Rubber Company in 1882.

The heyday of the factories ended with the Pequanoc Rubber Company fire in 1957 and the plant closing of the Amerace Corporation (American Hard Rubber Company) in 1974. The final presence of the rubber industry in Butler ended when the Amerace Corporation headquarters closed in the 1980s.

According to Wikipedia, Butler's largest fire began just after midnight, February 26, 1957, when one of the nation's largest rubber reclaiming mills (Pequanoc Rubber Company, Main Street) was destroyed by a $17-million blaze (a loss of about $100 million in today's dollars when adjusted for inflation). The mill occupied the site on upper Main Street, an irregular-shaped complex 600 feet by 300 feet and three to four stories high; it produced over 100 tons of reusable sheet rubber daily from 200 tons of scrap. One Butler Heights resident remembers the fire being so bright she could read a newspaper in her yard at 3 a.m. at a distance of one mile. The glow reportedly was visible for 100 miles; mutual aid response was required by volunteer firecompanies from 55 municipalities during the initial hours and then in shifts over the next week. New York City Fire Department, 30 miles away, offered help when observing the bright glow.

In 2005, Dallas Contracting Co. of South Plainfield, N.J., was contracted to demolish the entire old rubber plant. The site is approximately 6.5 acres and includes various industrial buildings including several outside tank farms and a power/boiler house. As part of this demolition, a large amount of railroad track associated with the railroad spur into the facility needed to be removed.

East Brunswick, N.J.-based engineer The Whitman Cos. was able to recoup a portion of the environmental cleanup costs to developer Hearthstone while leveraging state funding sources and previous initiatives that allowed the city to study the former industrial site.

Whitman was able to perform the necessary environmental cleanup that served as one of the first steps in transforming the abandoned, unproductive site into an upscale residential and neighborhood retail location that anchors the northern gateway to Main Street. Whitman was also able to secure $2 million through the New Jersey Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act to reimburse Heartstone Development for the cost of a portion of the environmental work.

Mayor Joseph P. Heywang said: "Whitman was able to narrow the scope of the environmental work and navigate through the regulatory agencies in Trenton — the Department of Environmental Protection and others — to get the grants and other funding sources necessary to commit to the project."

The result is a downtown with a mix of retail and residential space that proved to be the catalyst for further Main Street revitalization. More than three-quarters of the project is complete, and new residents have started purchasing the condominiums.

Along with the mixed-use development, the city has invested in a public park being built along the edge of the project site and bordering the Pequannock River. The River Walk includes paths and benches along the waterfront and dovetails with a planned public greenway that will continue upstream of the redeveloped brownfield site.

At the June 7, 2005, groundbreaking, Commerce Secretary Virginia S. Bauer and representatives from other agencies involved in brownfields cleanup and redevelopment highlighted this milestone as they joined Butler Mayor Joseph Heywang and representatives from River Place at the groundbreaking. The River Place project is central to the redevelopment of Main Street in Butler, located in Morris County.

The Brownfields and Contaminated Site Remediation Act provided for the creation of the "Brownfield Site Reimbursement Fund." By entering into a redevelopment agreement with the Secretary of Commerce, developers recover up to 75 percent of the cost involved with site remediation. Revenues used in the reimbursement effort are generated by new sales taxes derived from business entities making use of formerly contaminated and unusable properties.

In February 2000, the EDA awarded an initial grant of $189,123 to the borough for assessments and site work at the former Pequannock Soft Rubber Factory. In January 2001, an additional $9,866 was awarded to complete the site investigation phase. Both grants came through the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund.

Mayor Heywang added that Butler is pleased to convert a site, which is primarily concrete and asphalt, into a site that will contain green parkland and access to the Pequannock River. "Portions of this site have been abandoned since the mid 1950s."

"It was a terrible, terrible site," adds builder Clayton A. Bonny in an October 7, 2007, article from Bonny's development, called River Place at Butler, consists of 68 two-bedroom town houses, some built above retail space fronting on Main Street.