What Will “Opportunity Zones” Do For Manchester?

This photo shows some of the Route 37 corridor that is part of the Opportunity Zone. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

MANCHESTER – Parts of Manchester Township are now designated Opportunity Zones that are designed to entice businesses to invest in commercial projects.

The Opportunity Zone incentivizes investors to pour their money into areas that need improvements with less risk. They are allowed to defer capital gains on earnings from those investments. The longer they invest, the better the deal is for them. If they maintain their investment for ten or more years, they are not subject to any additional capital gains tax on earnings in that zone.

The zones are designated by census tracts, so large areas of residential are included even though there won’t be commercial development there. The Opportunity Zone doesn’t change the current zoning of the property. This is important to note since there are residential areas in the Opportunity Zones. The deal is available for private investors for already-existing commercial property.

The main zone in Manchester encompasses the Route 37 corridor east of Lakehurst. This zone carries most of Route 530 toward the western boundary of Manchester. Another triangular shaped tract comes off 37, follows Route 70, and ends at the border of town near the Toms River border, skipping Pine Lake Park.

Manchester Councilman Sam Fusaro was cautiously optimistic.

“Anything that helps commercial businesses is a plus,” however, there are plenty of hurdles to business in the area, he said.

The state has limited development to 30 percent of a property in those areas, he said. In other words, the owner of the property can’t build on more than 30 percent of their land. This figure includes driveways and parking. In some areas of Toms River, they could have 70 percent. In some parts of Lakewood, there is 90 percent. So, there’s a stronger incentive for an investor to go to those towns.

Additionally, there are not very many parcels left for development in town. In the last master plan, there were only about 20 parcels that were larger than 5 acres left, he said.

“We’re not sure it’s going to make a big difference in Manchester, but we’re optimistic,” he said.

There were also two tracts in Berkeley and six in Lakewood that were identified.

The Opportunity Zones program was part of the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The State Department of Community Affairs submitted recommendations for Opportunity Zones in towns throughout New Jersey to the United States Department of the Treasury for approval. The eligible Opportunity Zones are census tracts with a poverty rate of 20 percent, or a median family income up to 80 percent of the area median. The state was allowed to submit up to 25 percent of all census tracts. The approvals came less than three weeks later. All 169 recommendations were approved, amounting to at least one zone in every county, according to a press release from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.

This map shows the main Opportunity Zone along Route 37, but much of it is in the woods. (Image courtesy State Department of Community Affairs)

Reaction To The Program

Critics of the program point out that it helps first and foremost investors, and that there’s no guarantee that the benefits that investors get will be used to stimulate jobs locally. There is also a concern that the investors could change the character of certain areas and push out existing businesses.

However, some policy makers lauded the zones.

“New Jersey is committed to using every tool at our disposal to develop our communities and grow our economy,” Governor Murphy said in a press release. “This program provides real opportunity for our state that has the potential to create significant, long-term economic development in the communities that need it the most.”

Choosing these spots was the result of a number of state departments, including Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) office, and roundtables with various government officials and local mayors, the release stated. The goal was to spread out the zones so that every county got at least one.

“Every community should have access to the resources needed to realize its full entrepreneurial potential,” said Senator Cory Booker in a press release. “But barriers stand between too many of our communities and the capital needed to generate economic growth and opportunity. I’m proud our governor is utilizing this tool to help drive investment across our state, and I look forward to continuing our partnership to create jobs, increase wages, and support economic growth in every corner of New Jersey.”

New Jersey Future, a nonprofit that promotes sensible growth and redevelopment, praised the quick approval of these zones.

“Our analysis largely suggests that these Opportunity Zone tracts are places where strategic investments can serve as a strong catalyst for future economic growth,” New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach said in a press release. “They have the right combination of good location and durable assets on which to build, and they show the potential to provide the return that Opportunity Fund investors will be seeking.”

New Jersey Future studied a number of factors, including changes in population, median rent, and median income between 2011 and 2016, in the Opportunity Zones when compared to other areas of the state. The group also looked at transportation and other information to determine if the areas have a “town center” feel.