Meridia PILOT, redevelopment agreement OK’d

The developer of the proposed Meridia Water’s Edge will pay $216,000 annually — roughly $2,000 per unit — to the city for 10 years in lieu of regular property taxes that normally would be split among the city, county and school district.

The City Council unanimously approved the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) at its meeting Dec. 12 [Ordinance 29-11], with no comment or discussion among members of the governing body. The lone public comment during the meeting came from Patrick Cassio, the local Republican chairman former mayor candidate, who bemoaned the fact that the PILOT avoids any payments to the school district. Union County will get some portion of the payment.

How much the property would have normally paid in property taxes, or how the $216,000 figure was arrived at, is unclear. Currently, the vacant land is assessed at $161,700 but generates no tax revenue since it’s owned by the Redevelopment Agency, which does not pay taxes. (Theoretically, the assessed value would generate a property tax bill of about $9,322, based on the current overall tax rate of 5.765 per $100 of assessed value).

Capodagli Property Company will acquire the three-quarter acre property (Block 305, Lot 5.04) from the Redevelopment Agency for $1 million, minus a credit for removing soil on the site left from the construction of the library a decade ago. The agency approved a redevelopment agreement at its meeting this month. Principal George Capodagli told the Redevelopment Agency this month that the cost of soil removal was about $160,000, which would make for a final sale price of about $840,000. City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier initially anticipated the cost would be upward of $250,000.

The five-story, 108-unit Water’s Edge will have about 87 parking spaces on the ground floor and will use 21 parking spaces in the adjacent lot owned by the condominium association that operates the library building. The rental development will have 56 two-bedroom units and 52 one-bedroom units.

The Planning Board gave its approval of the plan last month, and the City Council amended the redevelopment plan to include the site. Only one council member objected at the time, based on concerns about not requiring some type of LEED-certified construction.

Water’s Edge will be the second project undertaken by Capodagli Property Company in Rahway. The Pompton Plains-based firm completed Meridia Grand, an 88-unit rental complex last year, which sold for $19 million several months ago. Capodagli also is in negotiations to acquire the former Savoy property, which has been stalled for many years. The firm is expected to present a concept plan for The Savoy site to the Redevelopment Agency early next year.

More than 100 properties win tax appeals

More than 100 properties successfully reduced their tax assessments for 2011, securing reductions in their property tax bills totaling $117,704.

The tax appeal amounts were approved by City Council at its November meeting, following property judgments by the county Board of Taxation. The 104 properties successfully reduced their collective tax assessments by more than $2 million, from $16.74 million to $14.7 million. Included among the reduced assessments were two dozen Riverwalk townhouses and two units at Carriage City Plaza. These judgments were appeals that reached the county level, and could be appealed to the state Tax Court.  In all, the city received about 200 individual property appeals this year, according to Tax Assessor Richard Kulman.

The number of appeal judgments approved are twice as many as the 52 settled at the county level in 2010, which were twice as many as 2009. The totals do not include the tax appeal settlement with Merck. The pharmaceutical giant had its assessments for 2010, 2011 and 2012 reduced as part of the settlement.
Averages among the 100+ properties, followed by high/low, were:

Original assessment: $162,551 — $82,800 / $305,700
New assessment: $142,729 — $61,200 / $250,000
Reduction: $19,822 — $2,100 / $47,900
Appeal amount: $1,143 — $121 / $3,211

Here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet with all the properties and details on the assessments and reductions. If that’s not cool enough, here’s a link to a Google Map of all 104 sites (which can also be found below). [It was pretty tedious and laborious to put together, so it’d be great if you could click the link to at least make me think it was worth the time and effort…].


There seem to be a couple of pockets or clusters around town. In addition to the new construction, some two dozen properties around the Rahway River Park neighborhood won tax judgments and another handful in the Inman Heights area.

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In case you missed last week’s drama between the City Council and Mayor Rick Proctor, Sunday’s Star-Ledger had an editorial about the ongoing debacle (“Rahway mayor’s overreach may cost him his job”). In addition to calling Proctor’s veto of an anti-nepotism ordinance “tone deaf,” the 258-word piece essentially said the council is trying to push Proctor out by reducing his salary.

Looking for feedback on the blog

I’m looking for some feedback this week about the blog, namely when exactly you read and visit the site. Whether or not the poll results affect what time I can post remains to be seen but I’d appreciate hearing if you have any preferences.

When do you usually read/check the blog?
– Early morning
– Late morning
– Early afternoon
– Late afternoon
– Evening
– Late night
– Weekends

I can tell site visits are certainly higher during the week, one reason why I don’t usually post on the weekend. I tend to post whenever I have time and some information though I’ve tried different schedules, if possible, such as just after midnight so email subscribers get the posts about 10 hours later; lately I’ve aimed for a specific time, like 7 p.m. Would that be something you’re interested in, a set time, like 10 a.m. or noon or 7 p.m., to be consistent? Or perhaps you like the randomness and surprise of whether there’s a post that day?

Also, I’ll sometimes share interesting items about redevelopment or planning stories from outside of Rahway, either via Twitter and/or Facebook, and/or tacked on to the end of a blog post. I like to keep up about goings-on elsewhere but also perhaps some items might be relevant to local redevelopment. Let me know what you think about that.

I’m always open to suggestions and feedback, so feel free to comment or shoot me a comment. Thanks for reading.

Restriction lifted on proposed jazz club

The Redevelopment Agency last night officially agreed to consider uses other than those permitted in the redevelopment agreement for the former Kelly’s Pub property.

A principal of the proposed KC Jazz Club at 1646-54 Irving St. (Block 162, Lots 5-7) made his case to commissioners at their meeting last month, arguing that financing evaporated while annual costs continue unabated. A restriction limiting the property to use as a jazz club apparently also hindered any potential sale or new developer to resurrect the project.

(Note the new sign in recent weeks, “Commercial Building Available,” on the left in the photo above, juxtaposed with the one on the right that says: “Coming Soon! KC Jazz Restaurant.”)

The resolution was adopted during a special meeting last night, a week after a lack of quorum for last week’s regularly-scheduled meeting did not allow for official action to be taken.

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Check out this piece from Crain’s New York Business about Brooklyn’s Myrtle Avenue. Twenty years ago, you’d be told to avoid the Clinton Hill neighborhood’s “crime-ridden main drag.” Today, 97 percent of the businesses are locally owned, with eight new arrivals in the past year, and 78 percent of them are minorities and/or women.

The story provides some details about community leaders and longtime residents creating a revitalization project in 1999 that has morphed into a business improvement district with an annual budget of $1 million thanks to money from the city, private foundations and fees on local landlords.

Council overrides mayor’s anti-nepotism veto

In another instance where the City Council and Mayor Rick Proctor parted ways, the governing body on Monday night voted unanimously (9-0) to override his veto of an ordinance that would have established an “anti-nepotism policy” within the city’s personnel policies.

“Never in a million years did I expect an official in Rahway would veto” an anti-nepotism ordinance, 6th Ward Councilman Samson Steinman said at Monday night’s meeting. He cited an anti-nepotism bill at the state level, introduced by Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth), and reiterated a statement from the assemblywoman about the need for such legislation.

Proctor and the City Council sparred earlier this year over allegations that he tried to get his wife hired as the new health officer, a position he held for several years before becoming mayor. The council originally adopted the ordinance Nov. 14 and the mayor vetoed the measure (O-33-11) on Nov. 23. In his remarks at the Nov. 14 meeting, Proctor said he found it odd that the co-sponsor of the city’s anti-nepotism ordinance was the “same council member who called me in June begging for a job for his child this summer,” referring to 1st Ward Councilman Robert Rachlin, who seconded the measure with Steinman as the primary sponsor.

Former Mayor James Kennedy had an interesting comment about the veto in today’s Star-Ledger story: “What the heck is he thinking?” Proctor was Democratic municipal chairman for many years during Kennedy’s tenure as mayor. “Just when you thought you’d heard it all. The veto was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in politics,” Kennedy told the Ledger.

In a memo to the city clerk Nov. 23, Proctor outlined several reasons for his veto, including exposure to lawsuits based on racial and religious discrimination and jeopardizing the city’s status as an equal opportunity employer. He also believed it conflicts with the open competitive process set forth by the state Civil Service Commission and is discriminatory “on face value by eliminating potentially qualified job candidates solely on the basis of relationship.”

Hiring of personnel originates with directors and the business administrator, not the mayor and council, so Proctor argued that influence would be exerted at that level. “If the ordinance is going to be more than just window dressing…the scope should be expanded to include department directors and administrator at a minimum. Even a cursory review of nepotistic relationships among city employees will support this argument,” he wrote.

Council reduces mayor’s pay by unanimous vote

The City Council last night night unanimously (9-0) approved a salary ordinance (0-38-11) that will slash the mayor’s pay by 68 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2012. Entering the second year of a four-year term, Mayor Rick Proctor will see the salary for his part-time post reduced from $65,000 to $20,809.

As he has maintained for weeks, the mayor said the move by City Council is “political payback” for seeking accountability. “I refused to go along with business as usual approach to management. And now I am paying the price,” he wrote in a three-page memo to Council President David Brown dated yesterday. Accompanying the memo was a bar graph indicating the percentage increase in salary ranges for management personnel under the proposed ordinance, most of which were 0 to 4 percent — except for the mayor’s position.

“Passage of this ordinance is fiscally irresponsible and totally unnecessary given that a valid ordinance is in effect. If passed, your actions will make it clear that the only purpose is to attack the mayor’s salary,” Proctor wrote. He claimed the governing body is purposely deviating from past practice that has been in effect for 20 years, where the council adopts the municipal budget, and then, based on available funding, passes a salary ordinance for management personnel.

“No one in this city is foolish enough to believe that you take this action pursuant to a reasoned, thoughtful consideration of its consequences,” Proctor wrote. “This council acts now based on politics, in an arbitrary and capricious manner. You have allowed this legislative body to be coerced by a small but threatening minority whose political rewards have been threatened by me as mayor.” (All nine council members and the mayor are Democrats.)

The few residents who were in attendance Monday night spoke at the public meeting. Scott Caffee of West Scott Avenue, a frequent attendee at City Council meetings in recent months, agreed that the mayor’s pay cut was a “personal, calculated” move by the governing body and suggested reducing everyone’s salary. Frequent council critic Patrick Cassio, the local Republican chairman and a candidate against Proctor last year, questioned why the council did not act in January when Proctor took office and what happened between now and the last election season cycle when other council members campaigned for the mayor.

Sixth Ward Councilman Samson Steinman, who worked on Proctor’s mayoral campaign last fall, conceded the pay cut should have been done a year ago, making the point that department heads who replaced longtime directors in recent years also were brought in at lower salaries. He continued to reject claims that the pay cut was a personal slight against the mayor.

Floren Robinson of Essex Street feared that cutting the salary will discourage qualified people who might want to run and not incentivize people to work to better the city or deal with all that it takes to be mayor. “Fighting over a few thousand dollars is not going to help the city,” she said. Her husband, Michael Pressman, a compensation consultant by trade, told the council that compensation can “serve as a powerful performance motivator” and in any situation where a person is replacing an incumbent, they’re aware of the terms prior to their new role. He said the city needs a cooperative government and an engaged mayor, emphasizing his concerns that the ordinance will have a negative impact.

Steinman countered that the mayor’s position is not a job as much as it is public service. “To look at the mayor’s job as a job is totally wrong,” he said. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier suggested that some highly qualified mayors in other Union County towns make $1 in their positions, such as Fanwood’s Colleen Mahr. Council members earn $8,043 and also are considered part-time posts.

Other council members didn’t speak on the salary ordinance directly, alluding to it and other critiques in their public comments. Councilman At Large James Baker called some of the criticisms of the council “out of line, not based on any sound perspective.” He said the accomplishments by this council and mayor are often “overlooked or oversimplified. We make difficult decisions in a proactive and positive way and the public is not necessarily aware of these things.”

Brown, the council president and representative to the Fourth Ward, suggested that when the current council majority took control of the governing body in 1996, “downtown was a ghost town.” Some of those same council members, he added, have been responsible for bringing millions of dollars into the city.