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Council Gives Final Green Light to Edison Project

Project must now garner approval from planning board before construction can begin

[Editor's note: This story was updated Apri 4 at 9:30 a.m.]

After years of debate and months of contentious meetings, the township council gave final approval to the Edison redevelopment project Tuesday night.

With a 4-1 vote, the council passed a modification and infrastructure resolution, granting the project the necessary approvals to move forward. Councilman Joe Krakoviak was the lone dissenter and voted 'no' for both resolutions.

for-rent and 18,500 square feet of retail space in the Edison battery building.

But before construction can begin on the $125 million phase of the redevelopment, Prism Capital Partners, LLC, the land's developer, must clinch approval from the planning board.

Residents to express their unease with the project, rallying around the recent push to repeal one of the project's bond ordinances by referendum.

"We feel the council has ignored our voice," said resident Windale Simpson. "The council is forcing this down our throats … The residents have a right to speak out."

The and would issue bonds to pay for the infrastructure of the project.

"I do love West Orange," said resident Rosary Morelli, who is heading up the referendum initiative. "But we do have a right … If we get this on the ballot and it gets voted down, that's good, that's OK. We know what everybody wants."

One resident, though, was steadfast in his commitment to revitalizing the downtown and expressed full support for the project. He also warned the public to think twice before signing the petition. "People need to understand the cost of this petition … the election would cost the town the salary of one police officer," said Mark Paulson.

According to the clerk's office, should the referendum require a special election, the election would cost the township roughly $80,000.

Resident John Schmidt maintained the council could have avoided any costs had they paid heed to the residents and pushed for a referendum two weeks ago rather than voting in the ordinance. "We could have had this on the ballot with zero cost. This group of people did not want to cost the town a petty, it's not the petitioners' fault."

Council members were sensitive to the initiative but were wary of the circulation of misinformation.

"The first amendment does protect your freedom of speech," said Councilwoman Susan McCartney. She said, however, she had received multiple calls from residents who claimed they had been told by petitioners that the approved bond ordinance would double their taxes.

"It should be true, it should be accurate," McCartney said, as the room broke out in disagreement.

In the end the council agreed to disagree on the project.

"We have to invest because we want to minimize that risk," said Councilman Victor Cirilo, referring to the possibility that the apartments may not get filled. "We want to make sure the public infrastructure around the property is addressed … That's where that investment is going, so the place can be appealing."

Councilman Sal Anderton added that should the bond ordinance be repealed by the voters, it wouldn't necessarily impede the project. "I believe the $6.3 million (bond ordinance) is not the make or break of this project. If public bonding is voted down, it doesn't necessarily stop the project."

jamie April 04, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Who came up with the design? That's hideous. It looks like a retirement home/ hospital. It looks outdated like it was built in the 1990's. There's an apartment building in Passaic that looks exactly like this. If they are going to build this at least come up with a more appealing design. Something more modern. This almost could pass for a community college
Smith April 04, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Have to agree Jamie. It is a tad "dated" looking. Hoping for the best with this project though :-/.
wohopeful April 04, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Very unfortunate that four of the council members have chosen to turn a deaf ear to the majority of the people on this issue and instead sided with the millionaire developer Prism. This should be remembered when we go to the polls on May 8th and defeat Patty Spango and Sal Anderton.
Cynthia Cumming April 04, 2012 at 02:48 PM
What exactly constitutes a 'majority'?
Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA, PP April 04, 2012 at 04:21 PM
The building is 101 years old and on the national register. As such the exterior envelope will be restored to match the original look of the building. This was mandated early on. As a member of the Planning Board, I will not comment further as stated the developers need to come back to this board. The public both pro & con is welcomed and should attend these important mtgs.
Mark Paulson April 04, 2012 at 04:26 PM
John Schmidt blames the town counsel for not pushing for a referendum two weeks ago. The signatures on the petition have not even been submitted yet. It would have been inappropriate for the counsel to put this on the ballot without everything submitted properly. This petition will cost the town the salary of one police officer. Yesterday these people said that that was still worth the cost. When they are so concerned about risk of this project, they fail to realize that their actions can have an economic impact on the safety of this town. Their actions are dangerous and must be stopped. Resident John Schmidt maintained the council could have avoided any costs had they paid heed to the residents and pushed for a referendum two weeks ago rather than voting in the ordinance. "We could have had this on the ballot with zero cost. This group of people did not want to cost the town a petty, it's not the petitioners' fault." (that is ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
wohopeful April 04, 2012 at 04:52 PM
I took what Mr. Schmidt had to say was that the council could have opted to put the issue up for a referendum vote on the May 8th election with no need for any petition. They have had the option of doing that since November 2011. We should also recognize, that the council can avoid the cost of any special election by rescinding the ordinance if they have the fortitude to do what is right.
Gary Englert April 04, 2012 at 04:56 PM
@ jamie & Smith: Your lack of historical perspective and in depth knowledge of the challenges the project faces us showing. The battery factory building has historic designations and the redevelopment is compelled to maintain and enhance the structure's original design elements. The architects/designers can't start with a clean sheet of paper.
Gary Englert April 04, 2012 at 05:02 PM
@whohopeful: What Mr. Schmidt suggested was that the Council should have sidestepped their duty and authority to govern the Township and submit what is essentially a routine matter of business to a public referendum. I didn't elect people to cower and run from a tough decision but to be guided by their intellect and conscience and to govern accordingly,
Mark Paulson April 04, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Wohopeful You obviously don't value the judgements of the people who were elected by the residents of West Orange to the town counsel. If it was up to you, you would prefer the residents to decide every issue rather that allowing these people to make important decisions for you. If they offered this up to a town vote, it would make their decisions insignificant. They are there to represent us and to make these decisions. You can't just hold a special election every time people have different opinions. You're smarter than that. I'm sure you can understand why your suggestion doesn't make any sense.
Shannon Schmitt April 04, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Just a quick comment on the quote by Windale Simpson. This project has been in debate for 22 years, I don't think that qualifies as being "forced down our throats" If anything, this has been dragging on far longer than necessary and it is about time SOMETHING gets done with that area of town because it is currently an eye sore. I'm happy to see progress!
WestOrangeVoice April 04, 2012 at 05:58 PM
@Mr. Englert: I am intrigued by how easily you forget. I remember how you embraced democracy and spearheaded a recall initiative against Mayor Spina.
Mark Paulson April 04, 2012 at 06:03 PM
It is nice to get a new voice of support for this project. Thanks for sharing. ;)
WestOrangeVoice April 04, 2012 at 06:16 PM
@Mr. Paulson: You speak of valuing the judgement of our elected council but, you discount the judgement of elected councilman Joe Krakoviak who speaks of caution. This council is at the mercy of Puppeteers without any hope of gaining autonomy during their term. Personally, I am for redevelopment but, at the sole expense of the re-developer.
Gary Englert April 04, 2012 at 06:20 PM
@ WestOrangeVoice: There's nothiong for you to be intrigued about as I'm forgetting absolutely nothing and I'm certainly not attempting to deny the petitioners' right to seek a referendum. It is a given, however, that the requirements to initiate a recall are far, far more stringent (signatures of 20% of the total number of registered voters as of the last general election are required) as is the likelihood of it truly expressing the will of the majority.
WestOrangeVoice April 04, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Ms. Schmitt, I agree with you and others in regard to something has to be done in that area. The current eye sore you speak of was created by Prism. Maybe you can bring me up to speed, you stated this project has been debated for 22 years. Why ? Obviously there is more to this project than a bonding referendum.
Mark Paulson April 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM
WestOrangeVoice, I have told Joe that I appreciate various concerns that he has brought to our attention. I also appreciate your support for redevelopment. My outrage is with the people who have objected to various issues years after year. They never speak positively about anything that occurs in town. All they do is protest and complain. They claim that they love West Orange but they never say anything nice about it. They object that grass is green and water is wet. Nothing is ever right with them. I can tolerate hearing concerns. I want to know them. However, these people just come up with one negative idea after another. Now it is time to restore Main Street.
WestOrangeVoice April 04, 2012 at 06:40 PM
@ Mr. Englert: I differ with you in regard to the stringency of a referendum vs a recall. When you pursued your recall the statue allowed 160 days to obtain the required signatures whereas a referendum is allowed just 20 days. If it is true and upwards of 2,000 signatures have been obtained I'd say that is significant when these numbers would represent somewhere in the ballpark of 40% of the voter turnout in eleections.
wohopeful April 04, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Ms. Paulson, you say appreciate the concerns of others and have disdain for complainers, yet you do nothing but complain about people who are exercising their rights under the current laws we all live. It appears you only want some people to enjoy certain freedoms and not others. I'm not sure where you hail from or what history you were taught but that is not how things work in a democracy. I suggest you stop the complaining and allow the democratic process play itself out.
Gary Englert April 04, 2012 at 07:25 PM
@ WestOrangeVoice: When the polls closed on Election Day 1996, the Committee to Recall Samuel A. Spina from the Office of Mayor had obtain 3,946 signatures on its petition, following a single day of soliciting. Nothwithstanding it was allowed up to 160 to amass the numbers needed, that one day total pales in comparison to the whatever the latest group of petitioner have or will achieve.
Gary Englert April 04, 2012 at 09:06 PM
@ WestOrangeVoice: There's nothiong for you to be intrigued about as I'm forgetting absolutely nothing and I'm certainly not attempting to deny the petitioners' right to seek a referendum. It is a given, however, that the requirements to initiate a recall are far, far more stringent (signatures of 20% of the total number of registered voters as of the last general election are required) as is the likelihood of it truly expressing the will of the majority.
Adam Kraemer April 04, 2012 at 11:15 PM
@ Gary: Historical fact Edison built this building with zero public financing. What was good sense many decades ago is still good sense today.
Gary Englert April 05, 2012 at 12:17 AM
@ Adam Kraemer: Here's a little (more salient) historical fact that you seem to be missing: actions taken by government (historic designation and mandatory DEP site remediation) makes the parcel $30 Million more expensive to develope than any comparable property not so constrained.

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