Council Dissension Threatens Progress of Town Redevelopment
After AvalonBay presentation, Council members try to delay vote on town redevelopment while concerned residents protest parking garage funding.
A presentation by a real estate development company about the long-delayed Bloomfield Center redevelopment – and the expected cost -- sparked dissension at Monday’s night’s council meeting as two councilmen balked at passing an ordinance that would advance the project. Two leading members of the community also protested, calling it fiscally irresponsible.
The project was pitched by AvalonBay Communities' Senior Vice President Ronald S. Ladell, who called it “one of the most exciting projects in New Jersey.” He described a “luxury-type community” development project with a 4-5 story elevator building, a fitness center, a club room and retail establishments on the first floor.
However, the issue of dispute was the funding of parking garage, which Ladell said would be built in advance.
Bloomfield’s Attorney for the Parking Authority Joe Baumann said the parking garage would be paid for with a $3,034,775 bond, which was only “taking money we already had put aside” for the project. “We’re trying to be conservative, at the end of the day,” he assured the council.
But Bloomfield residents Sue Ann Penna and Russell Mollica, both former Republican candidates for city council, didn’t buy it.
“If it’s such a great project, the developer should have bought the land, not the taxpayers,” said Penna, addressing the council. “What will happen to the taxpayers if we can’t pay back the bond?”
Mollica also objected to the proposed cost of the project, saying Bloomfield taxpayers had already paid millions of dollars for it at no benefit to themselves.
“The taxpayers of Bloomfield deserve the rateables from this project,” said. “Not one single penny will help the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
Mollica noted the Parking Authority had previously issued a bond of $12,480,000 for the project but used it instead to pay back an existing bond balance of $7,000,000.
Of the $5,480,000 surplus, “$1,811,478.11 had to be set into a special account to pay interest on the $12,480,00 loan,” he stated a letter prepared for Patch after the meeting.
“Mr. Baumann said in front of the Town Council that $3,000,000 was needed for the construction of the garage. . . [but] what scares me is that, in the analysis submitted to the State of New Jersey, the amount needed is $5,480,000," he wrote.“$3,000,000 now, $3,000,000 later -- when is the begging going to stop?”
Baumann acknowledged that Mollica’s figures were correct but said the parking garage, a key element in the township’s redevelopment, would benefit the community.
Later in the meeting, as the council prepared to vote on the ordinance to support the garage, Council members Carlos Bernard and Nick Joanow both requested that the vote be deferred, on the grounds that they did not have “100% of the information.”
Township Administrator Yoshi Manale said deferring the vote would only stall progress on the project, because of the council’s summer meeting schedule. “If you defer it today, the next time you’ll be able to vote on it will be the end of August,” he cautioned.
Mayor Raymond McCarthy agreed, saying it was not reasonable to stop the project from moving forward when the vote was for first-read only. There would be time at next week’s meeting to hash out the details, he said, refusing the request for a deferral. Councilman Bernard Hamilton remarked that the last-minute objection was disruptive to the legislative process.
The ordinance was passed on first-read, with all council members voting yes except Bernard and Joanow, who voted no.
After the meeting, Manale acknowledged that Mollica was “absolutely right about the rateables, but this project was not created to lower property taxes. It’s about changing the whole complexion of the community.”
He said the township is in a strong position fiscally and can handle the cost of the parking garage. “Overall we have a Double-A rating, which is a great rating,” he said.
The project itself “won’t cost the taxpayer anything,” said McCarthy, because it was bonded a long time ago. “The whole community wants this development project to go forward,” he said.
“The clientele that we want to come to our downtown center and frequent our restaurants and stores . . . places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, have said no, because our demographics aren’t right,” said Manale. “If we want those demographics -- that everyone says they want -- you have to attract those kind of stores. And you do that by bringing in an AvalonBay.”