The Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) unanimously voted to adjourn the redevelopment determination hearing for what is locally known as the Ryan property until next year.
For decades, the area along West Lincoln Avenue next to the Roselle Park New Jersey Transit train station between Chestnut Street and Locust Street has been an interest by both local and the property owners to develop the over-one-acre group of properties. In 2013, then-borough planner Victor Vinegra from Harbor Consultants spoke about potential plans or development in his talks with the Ryan family (link).
There are ten properties and all but one of them is either owned by members of the Ryan family or TIMPAT, a Ryan family-owned corporation out of Union Township. 58 West Lincoln Avenue is the only property not owned by TIMPAT. It is a house owned by the LoBello family.
This property is what ultimately led to the adjournment of the hearing.
James & Josephine LoBello, through their attorney David Singer of the law firm of Vella, Singer & Associates out of Hillsborough, placed a formal opposition at the meeting to have their property included in the Area In Need Of Redevelopment; a determination that is an important primary step in having the area redeveloped.
“I’m here tonight to voice the opposition to having block 503, lot 2 as part of this area in need of redevelopment,” stated Mr. Singer, “I also request that the board allow an adjournment as to why this property does not meet the criteria.”
Mr. Singer presented to the MLUB his firm’s position that when the Area In Need Of Redevelopment study was sanctioned, the MLUB was under the impression there were negotiations between TIMPAT and the LoBello’s but that had not been the case. He explicitly said, “There was no negotiation. There was no contract in terms of trying to purchase this property.”
The attorney remarked that the LoBello family has lived there for 34 years and have taken care of this property. He added, “In terms of the other nine properties, they are owned by the developer. If the owner chose to maintain the properties, cut the grass, make repairs, I think the study would be very different. But instead, the developer has let these properties fall into disrepair and in doing so has made it easier for during the study to have these properties fit the D criteria.”
There are eight (8) legal criteria that are used to determine whether a property can be considered an area in need of redevelopment. Under New Jersey law, only one criterion needs to be met. Previously in the meeting, the borough’s redevelopment attorney Christopher Corsini from the law firm of Savo, Schalk, Gillespie, O’Grodnick & Fisher along with Anthony Kurus from Neglia Engineering (in its capacity as the MLUB planner) reviewed the preliminary investigation study and determined that the area meets three (3) criteria: (C), (D), and (H). Those criteria, as provided in section 6 of P.L. 1992, c.79 (C.40A:12A- 6) are:
(C) Land that is owned by the municipality, the county, a local housing authority, redevelopment agency or redevelopment entity, or unimproved vacant land that has remained so for a period of ten years prior to adoption of the resolution, and that by reason of its location, remoteness, lack of means of access to developed sections or portions of the municipality, or topography, or nature of the soil, is not likely to be developed through the instrumentality of private capital.
(D) Areas with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.
(H) The designation of the delineated area is consistent with smart growth planning principles adopted pursuant to law or regulation.
Mr. Singer continued by stating that the developer is ‘trying to get around and find a better way to save money’ in order to develop the area and ‘bring in a property they do not own and is in great condition’. The attorney put forth that this situation is causing ‘extreme emotional distress’ on the LoBello family and costing them added money because they have ‘to defend their right to live there in peace and happiness’. Additionally, the other nine (9) parcels are being rented out to tenants according to the attorney. He claimed, “They’re making [a] profit on these houses now. It’s not like there [aren’t] profits going on.”
Mr. Singer concluded, “We believe that if the board allows an adjournment, we’ll provide testimony from a licensed planner that will show that this property does not belong in an area of redevelopment.”
MLUB Attorney Mohamed Jalloh asked Mr. Signer why the family could not have a planner available at that evening’s meeting. Mr. Singer responded that around 30 planners were contacted but that the 10-day notice was not sufficient to find a planner at this time of the year. Mr. Jalloh also asked if there was a legal objection with the notice itself. Mr. Signer stated there was none, simply with having the property included in the study area.
Redevelopment Attorney Corsini responded to the objection, “As to whether the board grants an adjournment, that’s purely within your jurisdiction, purely within your judgment call.”
MLUB President Loren Harms said, “This board has always wanted to hear all sides . . . Based on the statement made by the attorney here, there seems to be in contrast to what the testimony’s been given on behalf of the borough for the area of redevelopment. I don’t think we have any other option at this time to grant the adjournment.”
Mr. Kurus stated, “I just want to clarify that they’re within their right to have their planner provide testimony to what their opinion is of the property, but really the board should be looking at the study area as whole because each individual property doesn’t need to satisfy the statutory criteria in and of itself. It’s the study area as a whole. The statute actually states that individual properties that do not meet any of the statutory conditions, even though it’s my opinion that this property does meet the statutory conditions, even if you have an opinion that it doesn’t, individual properties that do not meet any of the statutory conditions may still be included within an area in need of redevelopment provided that within the area as a whole one or more of the expressed conditions are prevalent.”
Mr. Kurus added, “So really what the board after hearing the testimony of the opposing applicants’ planner, what you guys really need to think about is whether or not that property is necessary for the effective redevelopment of the area”
Jay Bohn of the law firm Schiller, Pittenger, & Galvin PC out of Scotch Plains, then approached the MLUB. He represents TIMPAT, the developer for the area. He commented, “My client is here and prepared to give testimony to support that he has been in contact with the [LoBello family] on many occasions so I don’t know what the comment that there have been no negotiations is meant to say and from a legal and planning standpoint . . . that you look at the whole redevelopment area.”
Mr. Singer, in response, stated that the planner they would present would address the entire area not just his client’s property.
The matter was then open to the board for discussion. There was a brief review of previous areas in need or redevelopment where opposition from properties included in it had them removed by the MLUB. Most notably the current property along West Westfield Avenue at the former Domani’s restaurant site had such an issue. The only difference was that, in that case, the properties were at both ends of the study area while the LoBello home is within the study area.
Mr. harms also added that since it is the last meeting of the year, with a new administration in local government might have this study reviewed again anyway. MLUB member Peter Picarelli thought it should be postponed based on discrepancies between the testimony of the two attorneys. Member Al Nitsche supported having the study and determination be made that evening. He stated that the area has been sitting empty for years, adding “If you are looking in returns of investment, time is money.”
He also stated that allowing one opposition put a stop to development project sets a precedent.
MLUB John Kennedy asked if the property was included in the first study. Even though it was included in the request by Mayor & Council to review the area (link), it was not included in the request by TIMPAT’s attorney to have the area reviewed (link).
Member Paul Baiamonte agreed with adjourning to allow both parties to maybe talk and negotiate.
Mr. Harms spoke on the discussion by saying, “We’re going back & forth so we make the right decision here. We have to debate within ourselves in what direction we have to go . . . We just want to do the right thing.”
After the discussion ended, the board voted and unanimously agreed that the matter should be adjourned until – at least – February of 2019.