The more than 400 luxury one-, two- and three-bedrooms were scheduled to be ready for occupancy in December at rents ranging up to $2,500. But opening day at Avalon River Mews in Edgewater, NJ, along the Hudson River waterfront in Bergen County, has been delayed indefinitely.

Last week, a spectacular nighttime blaze leveled the under-construction Avalon River Mews, which sits opposite Manhattan’s 125th Street, taking all of 15 minutes to spread from end-to-end of the building. That, and the fact that evidence points to a “hot spot” at one corner of the property, is leading officials to label the fire “suspicious.” A sub-plot in the aftermath has some locals openly questioning the wisdom of the runaway development that has engulfed the Hudson riverfront in Hudson and Bergen counties.

“It certainly is a suspicious fire, and our arson team is taking a look at it,” confirmed Bergen County executive Pat Schuber to local reporters. The Bergen County assistant prosecutor agrees but won’t release any details about the investigation just yet.

According to Gary Steinfield of developer AvalonBay Communities, his company is providing housing for about 100 people displaced when the fire spread to several adjacent homes. AvalonBay, the country’s 16th largest luxury apartment builder, is based in Alexandria, VA and has tri-state regional offices in Iselin, NJ and New York City.

Avalon Mews began construction a year ago this month, according to Steinfield. AvalonBay plans to start from scratch to complete the project, and most of its losses are covered by insurance. The project had been in an at-risk stage: with the frame done, workers had just begun to install interior walls and fire barriers, a prelude to installation of sprinklers.

The project is on the site of an old Alcoa aluminum plant, and it needed remediation to proceed. The fire was complicated by the fact that a tank farm holding million of gallons of home heating oil is located nearby, separated by only an old warehouse building. At the same time, Avalon Mews is just one of almost two dozen major construction projects in Edgewater right now, all of which is providing ammunition for the anti-development folks (mostly residents) in the region.

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