Weighing options on Wheatena

As negotiations over acquisition of the former Wheatena property slow down, the Redevelopment Agency is waiting but keeping its options — including condemnation — open.

George Capodagli, principal of Capodagli Property Company, told the Redevelopment Agency at its meeting earlier this month that a formal offer was made to George Bean, the trustee for the Wheatena property owner, the David and Sylvia Weisz Foundation. “We believe it was a more than fair offer,” he said.

Capodagli told commissioners that he met with Bean in February and addressed some concerns, including some additional money. “I got the impression we had a deal,” he said. The only contingency at closing, he said, would be approval by the City Council and Redevelopment Agency.

The offer also would indemnify the property owner on all environmental cleanup, said Capodgali, who figured on six months’ closing. Bean came back and asked for “a sweeter offer,” he said, so he made a second offer but at this point has not heard back. “I hate to say it, but the property is a poster child for redevelopment and condemnation,” said Capodagli. “It’s so misused, a hodge podge of uses,” he said.

Capodagli estimated that asbestos remediation for just the white Wheatena building at the corner of Elizabeth and West Grand avenues could cost about $1 million. The last time he spoke with Bean was late February and emailed in mid-March. The price “keeps moving, a lot,” said Capodagli, who estimated that he’s added a couple hundred thousand dollars to the offer.

Commissioner Paul Sefranka said his impression is that this is nothing new with the Wheatena property owners and suggested the agency look at all its options. “What’s the magic number? There almost isn’t one,” he said, adding that the agency could extend the redeveloper’s designation, but questioned to what end. The Capodagli company’s designation as redeveloper of the site ends June 1. The Pompton Plains-based firm presented a concept for The Brownstones last summer.

Redevelopment Agency attorney Frank Regan said he had a sense that Bean was willing to sell but that he’s using Capodagli’s offer against American Properties. If a deal can’t be struck and the agency wants to move forward, commissioners probably should consider condemnation at some point, he said, although he warned that it could be years before a final judgement determines the property’s value in condemnation proceedings. He cited a case in Jersey City where a property near Liberty State Park was to be acquired for $3 million but ultimately had a final judgment of $21 million.

Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier recommended that commissioners do nothing until the designation expires. By June 1, when the developer’s designation expires, then the agency may consider any other action, he said. Sefranka suggested that commissioners be in a position to be ready on a path on June 1.

“Condemnation should be our last resort, we’re all agreed,” said Pelissier, adding that he’ll have a report to the Redevelopment Agency at its next meeting May 1.