Valley project stalled

BELLEVILLE –

The Township of Belleville put off approving a tax exemption for a proposed multi-family residential redevelopment project in the Valley section last week after an embarrassing revelation.

At the Jan. 24 meeting of the mayor and Township Council, resident Phyllis Ann Frantantoni appeared to catch township officials off guard when she asked about a section of the redeveloper agreement for 91 Terry St./371 Cortland St.

That phrasing, she noted, guaranteed that 2.6% of the apartments to be developed were to be guaranteed occupancy by township employees “before any units are offered to the public.”

Mayor Raymond Kimble responded: “I read [the agreement]. I didn’t see it.”

Addressing other assembled officials, the mayor wondered: “Did we miss it? I don’t think it’s legal.”

Mauro Tucci, the township manager, said: “That needs to be struck.”

And Thomas Murphy, the township attorney, said the wording wasn’t in the agreement he had read. In any case, he added, “it’s an unenforceable provision.”

Curiously, in mid-December 2016, the mayor and council retained the Parsippany law firm of Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor, which specializes in real estate law, for one year for legal services in connection with “redevelopment projects” at $220 an hour “for all attorney time” plus $150 per hour “for all paralegal time.” It’s unclear whether the firm was consulted on this particular agreement.

Ultimately, Kimble and the council voted to table consideration of the ordinance, which was up for public hearing and adoption and which would have tendered the redeveloper, 91 Terry St. Urban Renewal LLC and principal Dennis McNeill, a multi-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes).

According to the proposed financial agreement, the redeveloper – who is pitching a five-story/70-foot-tall building with 115 “market-rate” rental units on a 2.15-acre tract – would pay Belleville an annual PILOT of $287,000 a year, which translates to $2,400 per unit.

Over the life of the PILOT, the township would pocket a total of $5,402,016, according to the proposed financial agreement.

Plans call for development of four studio apartments, 69 one-bedroom units and 42 two-bedroom flats, with monthly rentals pegged from $1,200 up to $2,300. And there would be 173 on-site, ground-level parking spaces.

Meanwhile, the governing body did approve a 14-year tax exemption and financial agreement for the 520 Belleville Ave. Redevelopment Area, the former Soho hospital building which sits on a 9.13-acre tract off Franklin Ave.

The redeveloper, Alma Realty Corp. of Long Island City, N.Y., is in the process of converting the brick building to 245 market rental apartments for which the township would receive a total of $9,215,869 in PILOT payments.

In recreation-related matters, the mayor and council authorized applying to the state Department of Environmental Protection for $5,182,066 in Green Acres funding – in the form of a 75% matching grant of $3,886,549 combined with a loan of $1,295,516 – to finance improvements at Belleville Municipal Stadium at Belleville High School.

Tom Herits, municipal engineer, said plans call for a new, “regulation, six-lane turf track along with two new multi-purpose fields to accommodate soccer, football and baseball. He said the proposed track would be open to the general public in addition to serving the high school.

Because of the way the current stadium field is pitched, Herits said that part of the projected cost would be for “surcharging” the existing field first. “And we’d probably put in a couple of retaining walls,” he added.

Asked by Frantantoni whether he had safety and/or health concerns about the artificial surface, given recent news reports about litigation in New Jersey over the use of a certain type of turf, Herits replied: “I’ve seen reports to the opposite in Massachusetts and Connecticut.”

Resident Vincent Frantantoni urged Herits to make provision in the project specifications for proper drainage to ensure retention of any excess water from the pitched field.

Asked about funding prospects from Green Acres, Tucci said: “We’re not ‘frequent flyers’ [in submitting a lot of grant requests] so our application should be received very well.”

If the township is awarded the funding, Herits said it would probably take at least two years before construction is completed.

The municipal body also voted to award contracts for the purchase of athletic equipment for the Friendly House recreation facility in the Silver Lake section.

Picerno-Giordano Construction LLC of Kenilworth will get $64,854 to furnish unspecified items.

The resolution for the award noted, instead, that several items, “the indoor pitching mound, batting cage system and rolls of artificial turf,” were deleted from the township’s bid package on the recommendation of “the [township] manager and recreation department.”

Why those items would be eliminated is a mystery since, as the award resolution notes, the township “has bonded $150,000 for the project.”

Picerno-Giordano’s original bid was listed as $97,500 but there was no indication for what specific equipment that price was intended.

The resolution also mentioned that Triple Crown Sports of Old Bridge submitted a bid for $7,023 but it said that the vendor “did not bid on all items in the proposal as required.”

Except for being used as an election polling station, Friendly House has been sitting idle since its construction was completed a few years ago.

The township has yet to disclose what types of recreational activities will be accommodated there. Thomas Agosta, township recreation director, has remained mum on plans for the facility.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.