Council Approves Edison Redevelopment Ordinances

Residents pack the meeting, councilman Krakoviak votes 'no'

[Editor's note: This story was updated at 11 a.m.]

The Edison redevelopment project got another green light Tuesday night after the township council approved  

The 4-1 ‪approval, ‬with Councilman Joe Krakoviak dissenting, ‪capped a five-and-a-half hour meeting that turned contentious toward the end of the night. ‬

The township has been seeking a way to redevelop the 20-acre dilapidated land surrounding the Thomas Edison factory building for 22 years, according to planning director Susan Borg.

The current plan, presented by the land's developer, Prism Capital Partners, LLC, would erect hundreds of luxury apartment units for rent, a parking garage and retail space for a total cost of $250 million.

The council is only considering

Phase I calls for 333 luxury apartment units for rent and 18,500 square feet of retail space in the Edison battery building. It will also include a 635-space parking garage and a Jitney service to both the Orange and South Orange New Jersey Transit train stations.

The air was divisive as residents filled the auditorium at Tuesday, torn on whether to move forward with the project.

Resident Richard Stolz said though his downtown business, Supreme Bakery, was doing well, "Main Street is struggling, we need residents in the area, it will get people on the streets."

Council members, too, struck a dissonant cord with each other.

Throughout the meeting Krakoviak echoed concerns expressed by residents over , the and the issuing of bonds.

"If it's such a wonderful project, why are we bearing all this risk?" Krakoviak asked.

Coucilman Sal Anderton called Krakoviak's salvo of concerns "disingenuous" and said they both had served on the redevelopment committee for more than a year discussing the project but that Krakoviak had never mentioned any of his deep-seated concerns.

Angered by the remark, Krakoviak maintained he had vetted his questions and concerns regarding the project.

"You're not making sense from a policy perspective," Anderton retorted. "You can't be for redevelopment and be against some sort of financial incentive, thats the very definition of redevelopment."

"I'm for redevelopment but I'm not for taking on most of the risk of the project," Krakoviak shot back.

The a to the developer to pay for infrastructure costs and places a special assessment on the property. The second approved ordinance outlines the financial agreement between the township and Prism. Under the agreement, the developer agrees to repay 50 percent of the issued bonds to the township, with interest.

Council president Patricia Spango acknowledged the tension in the room, "The town is obviously divided on this issue." She added, "Without risk, we wouldn't have development. Success to me involves risk."

Though no one disagreed the area needed a major revitalization, many residents staunchly opposed the project and urged the council to reconsider.  

Resident Rosary Morelli said she and others were ready to "hit the streets" with petitions if the project gained full approval. "We will get this on the ballot, we have to take this into our own hands."

Before construction can begin on Phase I of the $250 million project, the council must still vote on two resolutions approving a modification agreement and an infrastructure construction agreement. Both items were originally slated for a vote Tuesday but were pushed back to the April 3 meeting.

If approved, the project also has to garner approval from the planning board.

cb March 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Cynthia you are right let Prism do what they want, but not on my dime. There is a lot of risk here with the downside that we the taxpayers may be forced to fund. I am all for development but when It comes to my money and taking financial risk I feel that should be my choice not yours or the towns. I am against the 6.3 mil taxpayer general obligation bonds for Prism and this redevelopment. And Yes it should be a referendum on the ballot for the taxpayers of this town to have the right to vote yes or no. After all that is what democracy is all about.
Gary Englert March 23, 2012 at 07:24 PM
cb: Do you understand how little financial "risk" you are personally actually under here? While the possibility is really quite remote (given the substantial investment Prism and it's investors will have in the site), in the worst case scenario (Prism going belly up, the property not being re-sold and not a penny of income accruing to the Township), the increase to your personal property tax bill would be no more than $24 a year. Understand that these General Obligation bonds are financed over 30 years, If the Township opted to retire this debt based on a one-time assessment to all property owners, $350 per property (+/-18,000) would do the trick. The Township bonds all the time for a whole host of things without a dedicated source of income to repay the debt; that's what make this proposal unique and advantageous. Lastly, please do understand that the Township invited and encouraged Prism to come here and purchase the Edison site for the sole purpose of redeveloping it. This is now, and was always supposed to be, a public-private partnership.
Peter Shea March 23, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Oh come on Gary Englert! I thank you for your service to this country and New Jersey, but please do not try to pass yourself as some honest broker on the Edison Redevelopment project or on the upcoming West Orange Town Council race. You have been a Legislative Aide to Assemblyman John McKeon (D) since 2002. John McKeon was West Orange Mayor from 1998-2010 and started this whole Redevelopment project with Prism. Until Joe Krakoviak came into the Redevelopment issue, first as a citizen and later as a Council member, your boss and his cronies have done everything possible to obscure facts about this project and its financing. This obscurantism continues, obviously, with your continuing efforts here. Full disclosure: I was Joe Krakoviak's campaign manager (volunteer) and supporter in his first run for Town Council. You are obviously being paid to dominate all West Orange-related electronic media website/discussion groups discussing West Orange governmental doings and elections. So let's agree, as between two political operatives (albeit, yourself a professional and me an amateur), hackery has no place in discussions as important to West Orange as the needed development of the Edison site and current town government's spending profligacy and slated tax increases.
Cynthia Cumming March 23, 2012 at 07:50 PM
They already own the property. You can feel the way you want, but the real thing the town stands to lose is a developer willing to revitalize the downtown area. I am glad Prism wants to invest in West Orange, and I suspect that they don't plan on failing.
Gary Englert March 23, 2012 at 07:52 PM
@ Peter Shea: While I thank you for your acknowledgement of my service to state and nation, I can assure you that I'm has honest a broker as your're likely to find concerning the Edison Redevelopment Project. Why? Because I do not personally stand to gain a thing from the project's success, or very much of anything to lose in the unlikely event it becomes a failure. Neither, by the way, does John McKeon, nor anyone else holding local office, past or present, to my knowledge. Yes, I am a Legislative Aide for the 27th District, and provide assistance on matters within my fields of expertise, veteran and military issues among them. Largely voluntary, I receive a very modest annual stipend that doesn't even reimburse me for my out of pocket expenses; not a salary or living wage by any stretch of the imagination. Accordingly, your suggestion that I am being paid to voice my opinions (which are neither coordinated nor orchestrated with anyone) is without any basis in documentable fact. Further, while my documentable success and expertise in successfully running local political campaigns is a given, I've never been paid a dime for doing so and, though worth every penny anyone might wish to send in my direction, my amateur status remains fully intact. (To be continued...)
Gary Englert March 23, 2012 at 08:12 PM
All that said, John McKeon did yeoman's work in moving redevelopment forward as it was a well recognized need that had veen a topic of discussion for the 40 years prior to his taking office...and all kudos to him for doing so. He did what he truly thought was in the best interest of the town he grew up in, raised his family, served well and continues to reside in. Anyone thinking otherwise simply doesn't know the man or just how decent and honorable he is...and I can asure you that Mr. Krakoviak's public service, and personal sacrifices to provide it, pale by comparison. Lastly, my resume and community involvement need not be repeated as it has long been a publicly available as part of my profile (as is my picture) on The Patch. Ergo, I'm not hiding myself, or anything about me, from anyone.
john anthony prignano March 23, 2012 at 08:16 PM
{ Current as of the fourth quater of 2011} Who is Gary R. Englert Legislature / Legislative General Assembly Members, Staff Services, Division Director, Managerial Unit M at a salary of $97,970 ? Is this yet ANOTHER no -show job ? And , does anyone think Prism would spend an enormous of time and effort AND $60,000,000 on only the CHANCE that their proposed project would be approved ? Done deal, fait accompli .
john anthony prignano March 23, 2012 at 08:32 PM
John Mckeon AND Richard Codey are documented liars . Now, { Current as of the fourth quarter 2011 } who is this Gary R. Englert , Legislature / Legislative General Assembly Members, Staff Services, Division Director Managerial Unit M at a salary of $97,970 ? Is this the very,very prolific letter writer on Patch ? Is that yet ANOTHER no- show job as a reward for total syncophancy and utterly blind loyalty ? And , does anyone think that Prism would invest such a great deal of time and effort AND $60,000,0000 on only the CHANCE that their project would be approved ? Done deal , fait accompli
Gary Englert March 23, 2012 at 09:08 PM
@ john anthony prignano (twice failed candidate for mayor '94 & '98): The salary you are noting (above) is for the position of Director, Division of Veteran Services, NJDMAVA (not a no-show job, by the way), that I left in March 2010. Any information you have, or are disseminating, to suggest I currently draw such compensation (or have since 3/10) is wholly inaccurate.
john anthony prignano March 23, 2012 at 09:17 PM
{ Current as of the fourth quarter 2011 } Who is this Gary R Englert Legislature / Legislative General Assembly Members , Staff Services, Division Director ,Managerial Unit M? I would imagine this { managerial } position pays a very good salary . Does anyone know what it is ? This information is not current to March 2012 . It could very easily be more than $97,970 . Judging by the number of Capital letters in the job description and the obfuscating nature of the job description itself , I think a salary estimate of $100,000 a year is very reasonable. What the hell is going on here ?
Gary Englert March 24, 2012 at 05:11 AM
@ john anthony prignano: Repetition of the same inaccurate nonsense (and absent any source to boot) makes it no more true with each retelling.
john anthony prignano March 24, 2012 at 05:04 PM
" Ergo, I'm not hiding myself, or anything about me, from anyone " Who is this Gary R. Englert Legislature / Legislative General Assembly Members,Staff Services, Division Director, Managerial Unit M ? Nobody, and I mean nobody , takes better care of their " good friends " than John Mckeon and Richard Codey. Shakespeare : "Foul deeds will rise , though all the earth oerwhelm them to men's eyes" " So full of artless jealousy is guilt , it spills itself in fearing to be spilt " Charlie Sheen : " Winning ! "
Gary Englert March 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM
@ john anthony prignano:: Would you care to share your resume with the group? Any truth to the story you were dismissed by the US Postal Service? Or that the gym you then owned went bankrupt? That your unrelenting rage over the last 20 years is a result of using steroids? That your "career" since has been as a "Mr. Mom" while your wife actually earns the family living? Of course we do know that you're a two-time loser in your attempts to gain public office so, if you're "winning" anything it isn't apparent to much of anyone. By the way, the subject is redevelopment and this is not a forum for your incessant personal attacks on people you barely know.
john anthony prignano March 25, 2012 at 02:34 AM
I will conclude my expose with an epigram by Sir John Harrington : Treason doth never prosper : what's the reason ? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason
Gary Englert March 25, 2012 at 04:49 PM
@ john anthony prignano: Repetitive personal attacks (without basis in fact) against long past political opponents is far from an expose; it's just sour grapes. It's also not germane to a discussion of redevelopment.
Sheila Lefkowitz March 26, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Let's stop slinging the mud. The Town Council has spoken. We have the right as registered voters in the Township of West Orange to sign a petition for a referendum. Let the people speak. The issue of redevelopment is immense. It is not just about facts and figures, but the risk that the people of West Orange are willing to bear in a down economy. Perhaps the support is there and perhaps it is not- let the people speak! Petitions are circulating- my suggestion is to sign them and get out on election day. Sign, vote, and be counted!!!! With Peace and Good Will to All- Sheila Lefkowitz, West Orange
Cynthia Cumming March 26, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Can we circulate a petition to defeat the petition to vote?
Adam Kraemer March 26, 2012 at 10:45 AM
@ Sheila -The best way to let your elected officials know that you think the bond ordinacne and public funding of realestate deal is not in the best intrest of the community is in how you vote in May 2012 for township council. Three council seats are up the voters can put in people who might repeal this and the voters can put in people wiho would never do this sort of thing again. If council members get in with only 25% or so of the voting public in town voting as they have historically then they will think no one is watching and do this sort of thing.
Cynthia Cumming March 26, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Adam, what exactly do you mean by "this sort of thing"?
Sue Freivald March 26, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Clearly they can't do what they want with it, or they wouldn't have to come before the Council and planning board! And they aren't just doing what they want--they are asking the town to give them incentives that give them more of a buffer while taking WO's buffer to possibly less than nothing--no one even knows how much the town's added expenses will be.
Gary Englert March 26, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Just how much "risk" accrues to any single taxpayer through the Township's issuance of $6.3 Million in general obligation bonds in support of the project? Not very much at all, really. First the Township bonding authority is detailed in state law, with the allowable value of bonds a municipality can issue predicated on its total assessed property value. At present, the Township has outstanding bond obligations equal to less than 1/3 of its total bonding authority and enjoys an excellent credit rating; the issuance of $6.3 Million in bonds would not adversely effect either. If however the absolute worst case scenario were to come about...Edison Village/Prism goes belly up, they can't make their payments, can't sell and/or we get tied up for years in litigation to collect monies due...here's what the effect would be on the typical taxpayer: 1. If the Township decided to retire the bonds with a one-time assessment (unlikely): a one-time payment of $350 for every property owner (+/- 18,000) 2. If the Township decided to repay the bonds over their 30 year term (likely): an annual payment of $24 per year for 30 years for every property owner (+/- 18,000) Those are pretty big "ifs" and given something that the people putting $250 Million into Main Street aren't about to let that happen very easily. (To be continued...)
Sue Freivald March 26, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Perhaps "this sort of thing" means voting on something without having all the facts. Voting even though they don't have the answers to important questions--like whether WO's costs will even be covered by the PILOT, or what those costs will be at all. The proper response to hearing uncomfortable questions about the financial details is NOT an attitude of gee, I haven't heard these before so I'm going to vote yes anyway, but to say, gee, I don't know the answers to these concerns, so I shouldn't vote yes--let's stop and look at this more closely and come back to this, possibly with some changes. How could anyone would vote yes on something when they don't even know how much it's going to cost or if the revenue will cover those costs or what the COAH obligation will be or what major future transactions involved will entail? When basic, factual, objective questions are treated with hostility, and are even seen as treasonous (not just with redevelopment but with any topic at all) something is very wrong.
Gary Englert March 26, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Still, redevelopment is a complicated process and missing from the most recent debate is a summary of things decided years ago for reasons that color the entire project. Why formal redevelopment and tax incentives are necessary here is because the parcel is not conducive for fully private investment without them. Like it or not, the battery factory has historic significance as status by both the state and federal governments. Second, the building itself is made of Edison's own design and using his proprietary formula for concrete and will likely outlast the pyramids of Egypt; if it could be demolished (and it can't, see preceding point) the cost would be extraordinary and prohibitive. Last, because the property was an industrial site long before environmental concerns where on anyone's radar screen, the property required substantial site remediation (already accomplished)overseen by the DEP. What all of this means is that redeveloping this property will require an investment of +/- $112 Million to construct a complex that will have an assessed value of $80 Million. Can anyone get a (legitimate) mortgage on a home equal to 40% more than its value? No, and investors aren't lining up to back such a project without some incentive that makes it palatable and that incentive is the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) Program and willingness to assist with providing advantageous financing of $6.3 Million (the bond) for infrastructure and public amenities.
Gary Englert March 26, 2012 at 01:48 PM
This dynamic would apply to any investor and to whatever fanciful alternative uses one might think preferable, as those that were willing to make the investment agreed on one point: a mixed use (commercial-residential) is what was appropriate for the site. That people are willing to turn their nose up at a $250 Million investment in our community...in the face of risk so small as to be non-existent...is simply mind boggling to me; particularly given this debate has gone on for fifty years.
Gary Englert March 26, 2012 at 03:25 PM
@ Sue Freivald: What you're feeling isn't what others regard as treasonous but, simply that you're ill-informed as opposed to those of us who've followed this entire saga for decades longer than you. Development of the site...in any way, shape or manner...could not be done without a public-private partnership...and the plan currently in place was chosen following a laborious process; it is what has been approved though all existing protocols and that which developers are willing to fund. Paralysis by analysis is no way to govern.
Ken March 26, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Is it just me, or does it seem there's a weird flip-flop where many of the same people who want to block Prism's intended use of their land were also strongly in favor of Seton Hall Prep's deforestation scheme? The Prep doesn't even pay us PILOTs!
Cynthia Cumming March 26, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Sue, I was asking Adam to respond. Unless you are speaking on his behalf, I would rather see what he has to say so I know how to respond. ;)
James April 06, 2012 at 09:06 PM
some people are rightthey are the future of downtown. Loud music, and dirty street.
Alex Sohn April 14, 2012 at 08:42 AM
@Gary Englert: You wrote: "...having monitored this matter for 50 years....I am more than satisfied", and then go on to say in a later post: "I graduated from West Orange High School in 1969" So ... you began monitoring the Edison Battery Factory saga when you were in elementary school? How precocious!! Were you monitoring the redevelopment for Mayor Sheeran? That was the year of the big centennial celebration and 3 years before the battery factory closed.
Gary Englert April 14, 2012 at 12:46 PM
@ Alex Sohn: Precocious or not, I've had an interest in civics and politics (aviation as well) since childhood and, yes, have monitored the battery factory saga through the last five decaded. By the way, the first political campaign I ever worked on was Joe Minish's first run for the house in 1962. In 1966, I worked on Jim Sheeran's bid for a third term that he lost to Lou Falcone; Jim remained a close friend until his death a few years ago.. So, believe it or not, I have been around and involved that long.


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