I arrived early enough to the Zoning Board meeting on Thursday to sit through the hearing of Sanzari's New Bridge Inn’s application (to expand their parking lot), and the one thing that stood out for me was their demeanor.
They were polite, respectful, and willing to compromise. When asked about the flooding with their parking lot they didn’t hem and haw and try to skirt the issue. They were considerate of their impact on the environment and the community (though I know some neighboring residents are against the expansion). With great patience, their engineer entertained a myriad of ideas on how to address concerns Zoning Board member Joe Loonam had raised about their parking design causing possible backups into the road. Members of the Zoning Board came off the dais to make suggestions while pointing at the map. WHAT I SAW WAS A COMMUNITY WORKING TOGETHER.
This is what’s lacking with Hekemian’s arrogant group. They’re inconsiderate. There is no feeling of leeway or compromise. They don’t seem to be assuming a posture of asking. It feels more like they’re telling. (This triggers feelings of powerlessness amongst some NM residents who have already accepted defeat.) They appear to be assured of success somehow, and seem willing to disregard community, environment, flooding, and even truth and facts toward that end. The whole thing is tinged with a negative power, and a disrespect for New Milford.
I’ve said this before, but I can’t help but see these overdevelopers as parasites. Something that’s not truly good and healthy for the community. The bombardment of people, cars, activity, concrete, light spillage and noise aside, how about taking away all that green that purifies our air, helps with the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, and moderates our air temperature?
If we really wanted the “urban heat island effect,” ground level ozone from tailpipe pollution, particulate matter from diesel exhaust, insufficient oxygen from poor air quality, chronically inflamed lungs, more asthma, allergies, bronchitis, increased heart problems, and all the other conditions that plague green-less cities, we would have moved to the city, no?
There is a biology to life. Functioning on every level, in every realm. Instincts. Impulses. Forces. Life and all its intelligence and energy pulsing above, beneath and around every surface. When things get out of balance in any realm, illness sets in. When illness sets in, the healthy parts rally, join forces and fight. And that’s what I see happening in our town. Nature is taking its course.
Anyone who reads my blogs pretty much knows I’m locked onto the fate of the UW property, so I try to be present at every meeting involving Hekemian and company -- their main venue currently being the New Milford Zoning Board. Before this I would attend random M&C meetings. I remember seeing Mary McElroy or Lori Barton or Ulises Cabrera on occasion, championing one cause or another. And on the Patch they would post comments. There too I would see my wonderful friend, Jimmy Drake, amongst others. Strong individuals. Blessings to our town. And though they were on different sides of issues sometimes, my underlying feeling was always admiration and respect for them.
Maybe their ancestors were abolitionists, or Vikings, or Pilgrims who broke free from the tyranny of England, who knows. To me they are modern-day warriors with the strength of spirit to take time out of their busy schedules to right wrongs and to battle evil. They are people with a sense of priority and 20/20 vision who rise from the crowd when needed.
Thanks to Miriam Pickett collecting email addresses one evening at a Zoning Board meeting, SOD was born. Just as in nature, all these strong forces have gathered together. They are mounting a defense against S. Hekemian Group, and indirectly Suez/United Water Company -- two major entities who are, in my opinion, threatening the health of New Milford.
Some people are the bone of a community, some are the muscle, and so on. These people are the antibodies, the white blood cells, the B and T lymphocytes of the community. The immune system that kicks in when health is threatened. They represent the resistance. Without them and their kind we would be at the complete mercy of the parasites of the world who feed their needs AT ANY COST.
This past Thursday night, Hekemian’s EXPERT on land evaluation, Mark Sussman, was recalled to provide additional testimony on re-direct. There were two issues they thought worthy of addressing.
First, Sussman testified that the homes used as comparables in his analysis that were listed as unusable on the SR1-A forms, were “considered appropriate” in the “professional practice of appraisal” -- as long as it “was determined…that in fact the sale can be shown to be between a willing seller and a willing buyer, and neither are under duress….”
Okay, yo, it’s already a stretch that Sussman confirmed all his comparable data since no one has seen any proof of that, but there is no way on earth you could convince me that Sussman made the effort and was able to determine whether the sellers of these unusable shoddy comparables were “willing” and not under “duress.”
And though Sussman said that he used SR1-A forms to confirm his data in his “deeper delving” “independent check,” he never reported any of the shabby details (which are known negative value elements in the “real world”). Had Austin Ashley’s attorney Marc Liebman not uncovered them, the Board and the public would have been completely unaware.
Sussman also testified that the “usable and nonusable sale categories come out of the division of taxation and property administration, and it has to do with whether or not sales should or should not be included in the sales ratio studies conducted by the state….” What he neglected to say was that “fundamental to the assessment sales ratio program is the use of market value as the basis for true value,” and the nonusable sale categories were created as exclusions because they are known to negatively INFLUENCE MARKET VALUE. (http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/pdf/lpt/guidlines33.pdf)
IMPORTANT REMINDERS FOR TAX APPEAL HEARINGS
17. Some sales have a non usable code (NU) #1 thru #33. These are sales such as estates, foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc. These sales are not good indicators of true value and should not be used when presenting comparable sales. http://www.eastorange-nj.gov/PDFFiles/webInstrtxappeals.pdf
The second point that was covered during redirect was that the Cypress Street home used as one of Sussman’s Westwood comparables had an addition put on it, and that’s why Sussman didn’t use the later sale for his analysis. (Point.)
It was a surprisingly weak re-direct considering the bang-up job New Milford residents did on cross (i.e., other issues that seemed more threatening to Hekemian’s case weren’t addressed). In any case, the re-direct opened the questioning of Mark Sussman back up to the public, who took full advantage of the opportunity.
First of all, watch out folks, don’t mess with Moms, they’re fierce and focused when they have to be. The first person up was the mother of a Columbia Street resident, Betty Verdejo from Bergenfield. She was sweet, unassuming, and intelligent. This take no BS mom opened up a can of whoopass on Sussman. She asked some great questions and finished by asking him, “IN VIEW OF YOUR RESPONSES TO MY QUESTIONS, ALL HAVING TO DO WITH COMPARISONS, IN YOUR OPINION DO YOU HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT THE MEMBERS OF THIS ZONING BOARD WOULD BE STUPID ENOUGH TO GO AGAINST THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF NEW MILFORD?"
Fortunately for Sussman, he was not required to answer that question.
On the heels of Betty’s battery of questions, came a parade of SOD executive members with more questions: Michael Gadaleta, John Rutledge, Ulises Cabrera, Anna Leone, Miriam Pickett, Lori Barton. Then Mama Betty again, John Rutledge again, followed by Zoning Board member Peter Rebsch.
The questions in large part revolved around the fact that the comparisons used in Sussman’s analysis were not true comparisons, and that market value is affected by negative elements.
Out of one side of his mouth Sussman says his opinion is based on market data. “I go to the market and I look at the sales, and I analyze the data and that’s how I derive an opinion of value.” Out of the other side he says, “If I could find in the marketplace a shopping center with a 221 unit apartment complex as part of it, I would have done an analysis of that property. I did not find in the market, so it’s not out there to do it.” ANYONE SEE THE VALUE OF WASTING THE BOARD AND THE PUBLIC’S TIME WITH SUSSMAN’S (duh huh) EXPERT OPINION?
Sussman can’t find a true comparison so he used whatever he could find and we’re supposed to go with that because of the amount of work and effort and time involved in actually finding a true comparison, if one even exists.
Sussman is also expecting us to accept the fact that known negative value elements don’t impact home values, after years and years and years of market data proving otherwise. New Milford residents are not buying it and they’re pounding it home.
Lori Barton asked Sussman whether he thought the Harding Avenue, Westwood, comparable he used in his analysis was truly comparable since it is in a flood plain. When Sussman said, “Yes,” she asked “in what ways are they comparable?” DelVecchio popped out of his seat and objected, saying to the Board: “…hearing time is very valuable. I think we need to be judicious about its use.” Board Attorney Sproviero replied: “BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PUBLIC.” (What can I say? How good it was to hear those words. Balm to my soul Mr. Sproviero.)
Sussman therefore was required to answer Lori’s question, and this is what he said:
“The fact that its in 100 year flood plain, that’s just mapping from FEMA…all that means is that if u want to get a mortgage the bank is going to require you to get flood insurance because you are in that flood zone.” (If your Real Estate Agent said this to you, wouldn’t you be thinking, “Get me the hell out of here, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about?” Where once there was a potential home buyer, now there is a cloud of dust and a bunch of tracks…laters baby.)
Sussman told John Rutledge that appraisal is “an art.” (So Sussman is an artist…I kind of suspected that. :)
Zoning Board member Peter Rebsch told Sussman: “I’m trying to figure out what your opinion is in regards to let’s say we have homes here and nothing across from these homes and all of a sudden you have 221 units with a lot of people in there and they all run around all over the place, whether you would say the house values would still be the same.”
And Sussman said, “All I can tell you is I see apartment complexes mixed in and in close proximity to single family residential homes all over the state and don’t see a real impact on the value of the homes.”
ARE WE TO BELIEVE NOW THAT SUSSMAN HAS DONE ANALYSES ON APARTMENT COMPLEXES ALL OVER THE STATE? Smoke and mirrors, it’s a carnival act. Mr. Sussman was not a happy carny however. He looked at his attorneys with pleading eyes and motioned with his hands in helpless gestures.
In the most goofy move yet, Hekemian’s attorney, Stephen Eisdorfer, stood up during the questioning and said: “Mr. Chairman. I think the record should reflect that after each of the questions there has been applause.” Zoning Board attorney Scott Sproviero replied, “That means the people like what they’re hearing.” (Yes, they do!) Mr. Eisdorfer said, “That is correct,” and sat his butt back down. This statement of course was met with even more applause. (I was thinking, "Did that actually just happen? Or did I nod off and daydream?")
Naturally DelVecchio did not wish for any further re-direct, the appraisal -- term used loosely -- portion of the testimony was concluded. Like affordable housing witness David Kinsey before him, Sussman was visibly withered by the time he was relieved of his duty. They are not thriving in this environment, and that’s largely due to SOD.
When I went in my bag to get my SOD button to put on before the meeting, I came across my United We Stand button. So I put that one on too, right next to the SOD button.
Miriam followed an impulse. The forces are gathering. And to quote Snooky: It’s GAME ON LIKE DONKEY KONG.
The next meeting is July 30th at 7 p.m. Be there. : )
p.s. Joe Loonam, if you ever run for office, you’ve got my vote. And Peter Rebsch, I’m behind you a 100%. Your number one concern is your community and it shows. You salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance and I salute you my friend.