Someone placed public hearing ad in paper, but no one knows who


Township officials are unable to explain the publication of a public hearing notice about a controversial land use designation for what is commonly known as the former Kidde property in the Valley section, with the prospect of eminent domain invoked.

The notice, which appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Star-Ledger, said that the Belleville Planning Board would be holding a hearing Feb. 11 to determine whether to designate 675 and 690 Main St. as “an area in need of redevelopment.”

And it concludes by pointing out that if the Planning Board approves such a designation, “a finding by the Town Council that the above-described area, or a portion thereof, constitutes an area in need of redevelopment shall operate as a finding of public purpose and shall authorize the municipality to exercise the power of eminent domain to acquire property in the delineated area.”

When the matter was raised at last Tuesday’s meeting of the township governing body, neither Mayor Raymond Kimble – who is a planning board member – nor anyone on the council claimed to have no knowledge of the notice.

Neither did Township Clerk Kelly Cavanaugh, nor township attorney Tom Murphy, nor did Planning Board secretary Lois Trabucco, who told The Observer that the matter, as apparently advertised, was not on the board’s agenda for its Feb. 11 meeting.

Why the notice would be published at all is even more strange, given that the Planning Board previously voted Nov. 12, 2015, to recommend that the Township Council consider designating the Main St. parcels as an area in need of redevelopment.

Board member Arlene Schor, however, voted “no” because she objected to a reference to the possible use of eminent domain by the governing body. She said that there was “no historical practice” for the township using that power and that, by law, it could only be used in extraordinary situations, such as if the township needed the property for “public safety” reasons.

And Patty Inaugurato, the board’s vice chair, abstained, saying that the board had been presented with the resolution “at the last minute.”

Addressing Schor’s concerns, board attorney Rose Tubito said the phrasing in the board’s resolution was that the township governing body “may” opt to exercise eminent domain to seize property “if applicable” to the situation at hand.

“That’s a legal determination,” Tubito said.

The mayor, whose representative Philip Zungri was participating in the meeting, was sitting in the back row of the council chambers as an observer.

It remains unclear what, if anything, will happen next with the property in question reportedly owned by a holding company linked to the Finkelstein family which used to run a tire distributorship on the site.

A development team had pitched a proposal to put up thousands of residential units spread among several high-rise buildings stretching down from Washington Ave. to Main St. but the governing body last March rejected the plan, saying it would ruin the character of the neighborhood and put too much demand on municipal services.

Township residents Vincent Frantantoni and Jeff Mattingly, who owns a neighboring property, have questioned the area’s suitability for residential development.

Mattingly said that the area is prone to flooding and that its northern border is a “fenced off easement for trans-grid electric lines and a step-up station with two high-pressure gas lines buried below the towers. The western border is cut off by the railroad easement that also offers no access or exit and is high along the hillside.”

And, to the south, along Roosevelt Ave., there is flooding along part of the street “and the top … dead-ends at the railroad tracks,” he said. In an emergency, he added, people would be hard-pressed to make their way to higher ground.

Eminent domain lurks as what he called “a threat of litigation to try to force [the property owners] to do what [he redeveloper] wants to do with the property.”

But Kimble has said publicly that he opposes using eminent domain and Councilman Steve Rovell told The Observer he’s “not for it” and the council as a whole “isn’t interested” in using it because “the market will drive [any redevelopment].” And he said that residential development “is probably the worst type of redevelopment you would want to see” because of the “huge demand on our infrastructure” and potential for further crowding of the school system.

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