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Freeholder Candidates Spar Over County-Funded Restaurant in West Orange

Boathouse Restaurant in South Mountain Recreation Complex subject of debate

Candidates vying for the District 4 seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders traded barbs this week over the , which Republican Joseph Chiusolo decried as "frivolous spending" by county government.

Chiusolo, 50, is the Deputy Mayor of Cedar Grove. His opponent, Democrat Leonard Luciano, 30, of West Caldwell, has served as District 4 Freeholder since August, when the seat after 13 years on the board. The two men are seeking the three year seat on the the nine-member board, which will be decided by voters on Nov. 8.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said at a press conference in April that the restaurant would be paid for by the county's capital and open space dollars, and that it would draw visitors to other attractions at the the 36-acre South Mountain Recreation Complex, which includes Turtle Back Zoo, Richard J. Codey Arena, a three-story Park N Ride facility, a 300-space surface parking lot and miniGOLF Safari.

"The restaurant brings people here to stay here to play golf … to go to the zoo," he said. DiVincenzo estimated the restaurant would bring in at least $225,000 in revenue a year.

Chiusolo issued a statement this week, pressing his opponent to defend his support of the $4 million, 500-seat boathouse restaurant at the county's South Mountain Recreation Complex, which opens to the public on Oct. 21.

“At a time when the economy is horrible, and many restaurants are closing, how can the freeholder representing District 4 support spending more than $4 million of taxpayer money on a restaurant?", he said.

Chiusolo said the deal struck between Boathouse Restaurant owners, Jersey Shore-based McLoone's Restaurants, and Essex County, will take 15 years to break even on the initial investment.

"How do we know the restaurant will be around in 15 years?", Chiusolo asked.

In a statement of his own, Luciano defended his support of the restaurant, which he noted was approved before he was on the board.

"Before the development of the MiniGolf Safari and McLoone's Restaurant, the field at the corner of Northfield Avenue and Cherry Lane was a muddy eyesore at a highly visible intersection. It has been transformed into two facilities that will produce recurring revenue for Essex County and provide enjoyable leisure activities for people of all ages, increasing the joy of life in Essex County," he said.

Luciano added that future projects should be evaluated with an eye toward reducing the tax burden on county residents.

"Due to the poor economy, future bonding projects should be thoroughly evaluated so to not increase future debt to our taxpayers. Since taking office in August 2011, I have been, and will continue to vote on county projects contentiously so not to put taxpayers in any outstanding debts in the future."

Chiusolo shot back, saying "a little grass seed and some landscaping" could have taken care of that alleged 'eyesore' for "a lot less" than $10 million.

The candidates will face off in a debate at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17 at Verona High School, 151 Fairview Ave.

The District 4 Freeholder represents 11 municipalities, including Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston, Millburn, North Caldwell, Roseland, Verona, West Caldwell and West Orange.

Ryan October 11, 2011 at 03:41 PM
How did $4m (paragraph 6) become $10m (paragraph 13)? Or does the latter figure include the cost of the minigolf place? Clearer reporting, please.
leslie October 11, 2011 at 09:42 PM
So our taxes paid to build and then we have to pay to use the facilities.
Jim October 13, 2011 at 04:37 PM
I love fresh seafood. Think it is a great addition to the area. Looks awesome.
Judy Franklin-Uricoli November 17, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Great restaurant, beautiful location, stop gripping and give Joe D. some credit for building this beautiful place....everything he is involved in, i.e., park restorations, dog parks, etc. is an asset to the County...be glad u have a County Exec who does something with the County's money for the tax payers to enjoy!

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