UNION, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The town of Union says it’s trying to stop Kean University from getting its hands on a piece of land because the sale would burden taxpayers.

As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, the battle centers around a piece of property that pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. is planning to sell to a developer that wants to turn the property, which sits across from the university, into residential and office space.

But the university is using a deed restriction handed down from the Kean family, the namesake of the school, to the original owners of the Merck building to stop the sale and keep the land for the school.

Mayor Cliff People Jr. claims if the university, which is exempt from taxes, buys the property, residents will pay higher taxes, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.

“If the property is fully developed, that means we’ll get $5 million,” People said. “If Kean takes it, we get zero.

“All we are getting right now from Kean, especially if the deal goes through, is a heavy tax burden on the residents, and I can’t allow that to happen.”

Some residents told Sloan they are so scared of soaring tax bills that they’re planning on cutting down on their living expenses.

“When I bought the house in 2004, the taxes were around 6,000 (dollars), and now it’s over 8,000,” homeowner Juan Gutierrez said. “We are both retired and live on Social Security.”

At a Board of Trustees meeting, university President Dawood Farahi said the township’s position that it would lose millions in wrong.

Also, in a letter obtained by CBS 2, the president said the university has done a lot for the community, including selling its land to build a train station on campus, employing hundreds of residents and providing a world-class education to students from Union.

Students say the university has the right to consider its options.

“We need more space, especially in the biology department,” said Kean senior Maria Gonzalez. “Some classrooms are really small, really packed.”

Merck said the buyer, Russo Development, knows about the deed restriction.

A spokesperson for Russo said the company will not comment because there is pending litigation.

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