After returning from closed session at last night’s Mayor & Council meeting, Roselle Park’s governing body voted on and approved Resolution 148-11 which will formally re-open negotiations with AvalonBay Communities. Doreen Cali, the Borough Clerk, read the matter into the record, “Resolution 143-11 [sic] authorizing Surenian and Associates to re-open negotiations between the Borough of Roselle Park and AvalonBay regarding the court-ordered agreement in the amount not to exceed $2,500.”
In 2009, the apartment developer and the Borough settled a builder’s remedy lawsuit brought by Roselle Park VP, LLC through court-ordered mediation. Roselle Park VP, LLC was a partnership between AvalonBay Communities, Inc. and 450 West Westfield Realty, LLC – which is owned by Israel Braunstein – owner of what is commonly called the Romerovski property on 404 and 450 West Westfield Avenue. Jeffrey R. Surenian and Associates, LLC was the firm which represented the Borough of Roselle Park during mediation and negotiations.
The mediation resulted in an agreement which stipulated that AvalonBay would pay 10% of their rental revenue in the form of a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) program with other major contributions being a $400,000 payment given specifically to address the Borough’s senior housing initiative and use of 2,000 sq. ft. on AvalonBay’s property for the Historic Society or other community-based facility.
The lawsuit and resulting negotiations were major points of debate among residents and elected officials. A significant point dealt with how additional housing would impact schools and how it would be funded if none of AvalonBay’s PILOT payments would be going to the school district since 95% of that payment would be going to the municipality and the remaining 5% would go to the county. Those in favor of the apartment complex development argued that if AvalonBay did not build on the Romerovski property, the site would remain vacant and revenue for the municipality would continue to be lost. Adding to the debate, there were elected officials who stated that proceeding with litigation would cost more money to the taxpayer and ultimately result in a loss in court based on the advice of those hired by the Borough to explore possible outcomes. In the end, the Borough spent between $300,000 and $400,000 to handle the matter through mediation and, as of yet, no construction has been started on the site.
“The reason why this has come to the forefront again is because Mr. (Ron) Ladell from AvalonBay has contacted the community offering to increase the amount of payments that they will provide to the community if we agree to certain concessions,” Mayor Joseph Accardi stated before the resolution vote, “As the only viable method to do so, we have agreed that we will not do it as individual members of council but rather we would prefer to have a professional, namely Jeffrey Surenian & Associates, to deal with them going forward to make sure that any discussions that take place are being handled in a manner that will protect the interest of Roselle Park at a level that, frankly, none of the members of council can entertain.”
There was no clarification made with respect to the payments and if those payments referred to an increase in PILOT from the current 10% to a 15% maximum allowed by law or it the payments dealt with the $400,000 given to the Borough for senior housing initiatives. No mention was made of what concessions were being sought by AvalonBay Communities.
The mayor closed his comments by stating, “I think that the purpose of this motion is merely to see what else can be put on the table as we move forward with this potential project.”
After a motion to vote, council voted unanimously (6-0) for the resolution. Three (3) of the current elected officials – Joseph Accardi, Marc Caswell, and Tanya Torres – were not on council when the agreement with Roselle Park VP, LLC was made.