Five years ago today, on June 22, 2009, the Roselle Park municipal governing body at the time voted unanimously to approve an agreement with luxury apartment developer AvalonBay Communities to have them drop a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit it brought against the borough.
Since then, nothing has happened at what is commonly referred to as the ‘Romerovski property’ and the municipality – through its taxpayers – is on its way to spending $1 million above the over $400,000 it spent to defend itself in litigation. Additionally, a tax appeal was successfully filed in 2009 which cut the property taxes owed on the Westfield Avenue parcels to the Borough by $100,000.
One reason given by Mayor & Council in 2009 to approve the agreement and stop fighting the Builder’s Remedy lawsuit was to save the taxpayers money.
The other was the probability that further litigation – according to 2009’s Mayor & Council – would result in Roselle Park losing the lawsuit. Since then, COAH has been on hold, in practice, since Chris Christie won in 2009 to become New Jersey’s Governor. Additionally, there has been movement to abolish all or several aspects of COAH and new proposals and regulations for COAH are in the works to be published later this year (link).
In 2007, Roselle Park VP, LLC – a partnership between the Romerovski property owner Israel Braunstein and AvalonBay – brought a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit against the Borough after the municipality adopted a “Romerovski Redevelopment Plan” that required retail space for the ground floor of one of the two-parcel lots (link). The borough had not addressed its COAH (Council On Affordable Housing) for decades and AvalonBay sued under the premise that it could address COAH by providing 38 Affordable Housing units out of its proposed 249 luxury apartments and the municipality had no right to deny development since it had no legal standing due to a lack of Affordable Housing, which is required by New Jersey Law.
After participating in numerous court-mandated mediations with AvalonBay and a few public input/information sessions, a vote was called for on June 22nd in 2009 and a decision to sign an agreement with AvalonBay to drop its lawsuit was unanimously made by council. The agreement not only ended the lawsuit, but also allowed the developer to not pay taxes for 30 years once development was completed and instead pay PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) which would be based on occupancy. Although this amount would be less than if taxes were paid, 95% of that payment would go straight to the municipality instead of the average 30% that it would receive if taxes were paid. An argument against PILOT from some residents was that no money collected would go to the school district and that apartments would impact the student population of the school district. A suggestion to have the municipality sign an agreement with the Board Of Education (BOE) to share a portion of PILOT based on how many students actually attended the public schools was never pursued.
Now, five years later, out of the seven members of the 2009 governing body:
- Three of them – Joseph DeIorio, Rick Matarante, and Modesto Miranda – are no longer in office;
- Two of them – Larissa Chen-Hoerning and Larry Dinardo – have moved out of town;
- The remaining two members – Carl Hokanson and Michael Yakubov – are still on council and both are running for mayor this year.
In a notable turn of events, two members of the 2014 governing body – Mayor Joseph Accardi and First Ward Councilman Andrew Casais – both were vocal opponents in 2009 to the agreement signed by the governing body five years ago.
Now, with the developer having 10 years from when it signed the agreement to begin construction, no development has started at the Romerovski property. The municipality also needs to set aside $1 million to meet the rehabilitation component of the agreement – so far $600,000 has been paid by taxpayers with $200,000 to be paid every year for the next two years.
Mayor Joseph Accardi mentioned AvalonBay at the May 18th Library Board meeting and stated that in speaking with representatives of AvalonBay, the developer does not foresee any plans to move forward with construction any time soon. The mayor also stated that the property owner, Israel Braunstein, is ‘shopping the property around’ to other parties.
When reached by telephone, Mr. Braunstein stated he had no comment. Phone calls placed to AvalonBay Communities Executive Ron Ladell were not returned.
So, the anniversary of an important date in Roselle Park’s history – which also happens to be the halfway point of the agreement singed on that date – passes without notice from the municipality and a property that held promise to improve the landscape of the borough remains the same as it was five years ago, an area in need of redevelopment. Add to that the fact that taxpayers will be paying $1 million by 2016 as a result of the governing body’s decision in 2009 to sign an agreement which would save taxpayers money.
Below are some videos created by The Concerned Citizens Of Roselle Park* (link), an organization that was formed, in part, due to the lack of research done in regard to several aspects of PILOT and AvalonBay.