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Fate of United Water Property Divides Town

Subrizi talks about grant money and rezoning; Casey reserves comments regarding her reported statements regarding grant money for United Water property.

Now that the Zoning Board is considering the question of whether Hekemian's revised application constitutes a new application, causing the case to be heard from the beginning, the question of the fate of the property is foremost on minds of residents.

Much of the contention surrounds Mayor Ann Subrizi's recommendation that the council rezone the property for a less intensive use during the May work session of the Mayor and Council.

It is SOD's position that the town purchase the land, if or when it becomes available, and keep it green. Through petition, protest march, letters to the editor and appearances at work sessions and public meetings, SOD has pushed the Mayor and Council to let the fate of the property run its course through the Zoning Board before considering rezoning.

As she has stated publicly, Subrizi's position is that to not rezone the property, and allow the application to run its course through the Zoning Board, is "too big of a gamble" for the borough.

Addressing accusations made that this position suggests that she has "made deals" with the developer, Mayor Subrizi said that she has never made any deals with anyone involved in the current purchase of the United Water property.

"I don't care if Hekemian and Inserra lose money or make money," she said. "My only concern is that New Milford retains the power to control what goes or doesn't go on that property, and not be subject to a judge's determination."

Subrizi said that her motivation for rezoning is COAH driven and cited Cranford as an example of what could potentially happen to New Milford. Like New Milford, Hekemian put forth an application for a large development to be constructed on flood prone property. Hekemian's Cranford application includes 360 apartment units and a five-story parking garage. 60 of the units fulfill Cranford's COAH requirements. The matter went to court and Hekemian won on the basis of "builder's remedy" although the decision is being appealed by the township

A “Builder’s Remedy Lawsuit” is a legal action taken by a developer in an attempt to force a municipality to permit construction of a large, multi-family housing structure or complex that includes affordable housing units citing the Mount Laurel decision, a landmark case that holds municipalities responsible for providing affordable housing to low and moderate income households.

Subrizi said that because a previous administration parked the town's entire COAH obligation on the United Water property, it is COAH that is going to drive the success of the proposed development since it is the crux of their argument.

Subrizi wants to clarify the record regarding available grant money when the United Water property was available for purchase. Despite all that has been said by members of SOD at public meetings and on Patch, she said when the town considered purchasing the property there was no guarantee that grant money was available for the purchase. 

SOD has put forth that New Milford's bond writer, Marlene Casey, said that there were grants available for the purchase of the property in early 2011. Although, according to members of SOD, Casey said that the town would have had to finance the property through bonds before any grant money was realized.

Subrizi said that at the same time that the United Water property was available for purchase the town had inquired about securing grants for the $1.6 million Hirschfeld Brook flood mitigation project, but was advised by Casey that the grant money available had a short time frame and was required to be spent as quickly as possible.

"You know what we got in grants for Hirschfeld?" Subrizi asked. "Nothing. Zero."

She questioned that if there were grants available for the purchase of the United Property at that time, then why did the town get nothing for the Hirschfeld flood mitigation project?

Subrizi stressed that the only ones who could have guaranteed the money to purchase the property were the taxpayers of New Milford. "And you have to add that $8 million figure to the $1.6 million for the Hirschfeld Brook flood mitigation project," she said.

"The only guarantee we had in early 2011 was that if we purchased the United Water property the taxpayers of New Milford would be the ones paying for it," she said.

Subrizi also questioned SOD's calculations of what it would have cost to bond for the estimated $8 million purchase. According to members of SOD, Casey reportedly told them that had those bonds been purchased in 2011, the interest would have been no more than 1.5 percent--approximately $5000.

Subrizi questioned that calculation."1.5 percent of $8 million is $120,000," she said. "I'm not sure how the $5000 interest amount was arrived at."

According to the March 14, 2011 council meeting minutes, when asked by Councilman Howard Berner if grants were available through Open Space to purchase the United Water property, Casey said that it is possible to purchase the property in stages with grant money, but it would require a "leap of faith" to bond and pay it back over three years with grant money.

Casey told Patch that she did not want to make any comment about anything she reportedly said to SOD regarding the United Water property. Her reason being that "not one person" she has spoken to "got it right." Casey said that she will be making her official comment when she appears before the Mayor and Council at their January meeting.

"I'd rather say what I have to say [regarding the United Water property] and say it on the official record at the January meeting," Casey said.

Subrizi said that after the appearance of Casey at the March 14, 2011, mayor and council meeting, Casey never provided the council with a packet of information outlining a course of action in obtaining grants that could be put towards the property.

Subrizi wants to dispel the notion that she is the enemy. "I want to keep the power to rezone that property in the hands of New Milford and not give it to the courts," she said.

"If the developer, or the town, takes the case to court, the court's decision will ultimately rezone that property, and that's not what I want for New Milford." 

Jimmy GetaLife December 26, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Christina, great point! I'm glad you figured him out. Many in town hate him because he's turning the Patch into NJ.com. I wish the editor would just ban him all together from here, he's evil and vindictive. If you notice in this exchange he used the word "cute" and made all political references exactly like Insider_07646 did, it's obviously him. Get a life Jimmy!
Ann Piccirillo December 27, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Time for some editorial intervention. Again, there is great passion on both sides of the development/rezoning issue and I encourage, heartily encourage, debate on the issue, but let us all keep focused on the issue and keep from straying elsewhere. My understanding is that because the property is in a private sale, it cannot be placed on a referendum. Should that change, and the land become available for the town to purchase, then it can go to referendum.
Robert December 27, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Hi Ann, thank you for your excellent writing and attention to New Milford. Could they have placed a question on the ballot that said, "Should the United Water property become available, would the public like to see the town make an effort to purchase the property through grants."
Ulises December 27, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Robert, I asked the M&C the same question and I was told no, it's a private sale. Unfortunately, boroughs, such as New Milford, don't governor under the Faulkner Act and only a willing M&C would put your/our question up on a ballot like they did with the Field of Dreams. When I initially asked I told the M&C this will remove all politics out of the equation and put the decision in the hands of the citizens of New Milford. I feel their refusal to not do this has driven this divide in town and has forced the M&C to defend their various positions on the Patch, which I feel their outspokenness can influence the outcome in the Zoning Board decision on this application and on the Planning Board’s decision to rezone. Here's what we would be able to do if our Borough was governed under the Faulkner Act: "...In all Faulkner Act municipalities, regardless of the particular form, citizens enjoy the right of Initiative and referendum, meaning that proposed ordinances can be introduced directly by the people without action by the local governing body. This right is exercised by preparing a conforming petition signed by 10% of the registered voters who turned out in the last general election in an odd-numbered year (i.e., the most recent General Assembly election). Once the petition is submitted, the local governing body can vote to pass the requested ordinance, and if they refuse, it is then submitted directly to the voters."
Lolita December 31, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Taxpayingnewmilfordresident,since you brought it up, Nov 28,2012 @ 4:17 PM Hack Riverkeeper Supports Development etc. Her last sentence "I'd love to see some kind of investigation into who IS paying him off". At 4:38 I warned her about libel. At 4:53 she logged in " I never said he was paid off - I said I'd like to see an investigation into it IF he was paid off" at 5:40 PM I told her "I see no IF in her sentence". Please look for yourself. "The week ahead" on Dec 17th.after the horror that befell those children at Newtown, everyone was on edge with the safety of our children. I thought of a child walking home through the UW property and being molested since we did have a lurer at that point here in New Milford. She mocked me at 10:56 using the exact same words you are using now. hoot and a half. She then denies the mocking at 9:04 Pm the next day. If she is what you think makes a good Mayor, I say let her put her name on the ballot.

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