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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." 

Lolita December 20, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Thank you so much Mrs. Picirillo. I thought I would never read this Patch again, but your report has shown the actual truth for once. Thank you Thank you Thank you.
Lolita December 20, 2012 at 10:15 PM
And by the way, it appears that you Mrs Pickett are the "hoot and a half".
ConnieMcKnight December 21, 2012 at 12:26 AM
To think how many people were hurt in so many ways. and now we find out it was all not true. For shame.
Ulises December 21, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Great article but the only person commenting is really the Mayor.  Ms. Casey is waiting for January 14th's M&C meeting to answer questions on the record. SOD was not asked any questions on this piece and everything mentioned in the article about SOD are based off comments people left here on the Patch.  COAH landed on this property by an amended Master Plan in 2004.  If we move COAH out of this property we wouldn't have to worry about a builder's remedy lawsuit and the Mayor wouldn't have to worry about rezoning this property to commercial.  I'm no expert in this matter but if it was so easy to amend the town's master plan in 2004, why is it so difficult to undue it now and place COAH somewhere else in town? This type of action will unite many town and I hope our newly elected officials will look into doing this.
scooby doo December 21, 2012 at 02:31 AM
reserve judgement till ms. casey speaks in January. it might be for shame to find out who is really telling the truth.
Lori Barton December 21, 2012 at 12:03 PM
I cannot understand the push to rezone. The developer is "downsizing" from his first ridiculous request but the mega ShopRite is still in the picture. If we rezone, we give the developer exactly what he wants. If we don't rezone and we "lose," the developer gets exactly what he wants. If we see this through and we win, we are rid of this horrendous proposal. Especially since Hekemian realizes that the original proposal was going nowhere, we are in the driver's seat now. And that is due to the pressure exerted by this community. I say we keep up the pressure and wait till January to hear from Mrs. Casey. I am certain that what she will say will have a tremendous impact. Happy Holidays to all and let's hope for a very GREEN New Year!!
A.S.Otero December 21, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Please pardon my ignorance, and this might not be the correct forum for this question, but here it goes anyway. There has been much speculation (from both sides) of what the "people" of New Milford want to happen on this property, but I still don't think we have a definite consensus. Why was there no referendum on this last election to find out exactly what "we the people" want? Granted, it is a moot point at this time, but when and if the property were to become available, wouldn't it be wise to know what is actually wanted by the constituency? Like it or not, agree with it or not, we now know the consensus on the FOD question. Why was THIS question not asked?
robin commerford December 21, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Yes, I agree with a.s. otero. Why wasn't the united water property put on november's ballot? We need a general consensus in this town about this issue. Maybe there are people in this town that don't want our tax $ being spent on this and if the town could pull it off getting grant money, who will pay for whatever will be put on it. Fod proved that the majority of us don't want 2 spend $ on an athletic field. My newly assessed property is down $100,000. What can be done about shrinking property values in this town???
robin commerford December 23, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Yes, a very merry Christmas to you too! Thanks for the input, Jimmy. It is a shame that a possible private sale can cause so much aggravation for our town. I wish for a peaceful new year! Ps. I agree with Annie
Libi December 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I signed a SOD petition you and your son had outside of the Shop Rite this summer and now you are speaking as if you've never been a part of SOD's movement? I believe I saw you on National Night Out with more SOD petitions. Your son was at the SOD protest march, according to the pictures on ths site, before his election. You seem to be an opportunist and you are a part of the divide this Mayor has obviously created in this small town.
Dick Cheney December 24, 2012 at 04:08 AM
So why do you speak against SOD if you once supported them and members spoke so nicely of your son as you mentioned? Along with Libi, I saw you at National Night Out by the SOD table and now there's all this anger talk about them. Libi is right about you and the Mayor, you are all the reasons why this town is divided and all you sell here are angry lies.
A.S.Otero December 24, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, and Good Will Toward Men! And to Ann, thanks for another great article! Jimmy, I'm not trying to attack your position, as I believe we are all entitled to our opinions, and I can agree, to either agree or disagree. I believe the only way to reach a beneficial compromise is through intelligent discourse and without resorting to personal attacks regardless of how passionate or heated the topic. Some questions: 1. I agree it's currently a "possible" private sale at this point, but shouldn't we hold our elected officials to being proactive instead of reactive? They should KNOW at this point what the electorate wants instead of THINKING they know. Wouldn't you agree that an opportunity was missed at this last election? 2. With only a 4 month right or first refusal why would this be something to put on the "WAY BACK burner"? 3. Why do you refer to them as the "a&p KIDS"? As elected officials I would think they deserve a little more respect. Are you inferring, that due to their ages they have less to offer? 4. Now that you seem to be against SOD, what they stand for, and are in favor of development in some scaled back sense from what I'm gathering, do you know of any petitions within our community that is FOR development of this area in regards to ANY of the plans that have been put forth? I would think that if there was such an overwhelming amount of support for development, there would be more than just conjecture at this point.
Honest Joe December 24, 2012 at 02:30 PM
@Jimmy, I took your advice since you seem like Mr. Anti-SOD on the Patch. I looked up SOD comments and I went on SOD's website and their message is pretty consistent and their website mission hasn't changed, "SOD strongly opposes the development of the United Water property adjacent to New Milford High School. We believe that the best interests of New Milford regarding this property is that it remain undeveloped to protect our flood-prone areas and the residential nature of this part of New Milford. Compromise is not an option!". You are calling them liars now. You are now implying a group of people ruined careers here on the patch. Comments on the Patch ruined careers and it's SOD fault, really? For a group who had no impact to your son's election, as you claim, you are now portraying them as very influential. You are portraying a group, up against all odds, as the problem in town. It seems like you are part of the same spin campaign the Mayor has engaged here since that group started letting the cat out of the bag. Why doesn't the Mayor say I want to see a Shop Rite there, period! Instead she blames everyone else for the reason to rezone and is on the Patch every other week blogging about it. I look forward to hearing what the grant writer will publically disclose on the record. I could only imagine what your spin and the Mayor's spin will be once the truth is out about what really happened last year.
Insider_07646 December 24, 2012 at 03:04 PM
SOD's true plans revealed later... **see you on the inside ;)
Ulises December 24, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Mr. Drake, you need to get a lot of your facts straight. The M&C decides what goes on a referendum and the M&C puts it on the ballot. Independent groups don't decide what questions or referendums appear on election ballots, so there were no missed opportunity as you mentioned. Many have asked the M&C for a referendum, way before SOD's inception. When I asked back in Aprill 2011 the Mayor said no because its a private sale.
Insider_07646 December 24, 2012 at 03:50 PM
While SOD would have you believe that the mayor is working clandestinely with the developer and perpatrating an evil against this town, you are all blind to the real truth. Democrats rule SOD and are working to get democrats elected. Once that is complete, they will have the judge decide in hekemians favor and allow him to put up an apartment complex which will vote 65/35 democrat, forever insuring their reign going forward. Mr. Drake has asked in the past why Mike and Austin never comment...my answer is because they never need to. I am the Person that sits quietly at all of these meetings, both private and public, and never is noticed or makes a comment. However that time has changed. ** See you on the inside ;)
scooby doo December 24, 2012 at 03:54 PM
So why didn't anybody ask us what we wanted? why did the mayor assume that homeowners didn't want it? At the meeting in april 2011, almost everyone who got up to speak said they didn't want this stuff built there. mr. ulises did ask for a referendum then. why was it ok to put the FOD on the ballot? it should have been put into 2 questions. who wants a field and who wants it at owens. would have been different results. mr. drake you need to get your "facts" straight. i can't wait to hear mrs. casey and then try to see how you spin that.
Ulises December 24, 2012 at 04:32 PM
SOD is made of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, during National Night Out that was evident. We have board members that are Republicans too. I voted for the Subrizi team last time she was on the ballot... The intention of this article is clearly a one sided view of the Mayor's take on comments made on the Patch (comments made on the Patch is now town news!?). To all the yea and nay sayers in this virtual word of opinions, lets hope in 2013 we find common ground and unite together for the town's sake.
Insider_07646 December 24, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Ulises, the cute thing is that you think they tell you everything. With an aggressive fighter like you its easy for them to unload any responsibility off to you...after all if you can't be used your useless in politics Not every SOD meeting happens at official SOD meetings... **See you on the inside :)
A.S.Otero December 24, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Jimmy, Thanks for the response, I can certainly appreciate the sentiment of being tired of this issue. On the first 2 points we'll just have to agree to disagree. On the 3rd, I'd have to agree that NO ONE regardless of position, title, or opinion should be the subject of belittling, abuse, or bullying. These are hardly conducive to progress or coming to any lasting agreement. Lastly, my use of the word conjecture was meant in the simplest of terms - an unproven statement or proposition. The statement that the electorate is for OR against, the development in any form; or the purchase of the same, if/when the opportunity arises, is conjecture BECAUSE there was no referendum. Whereas the statement that electorate DOES NOT want the FOD is no longer conjecture due to the referendum concerning the FOD. My Christmas wish would've been to have a referendum on the UW property... Anyway, may everyone have Merry Christmas!!
Heather December 24, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Promises, promises.
Ulises December 24, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Lol! Insider, you are truly no insider and your comments are filled with lies. I've heard the same words you've used by someone on this very same page. It's all a big spin and scare tactic game you are all a part of. Like I said, I hope we get pass these internet school yard games that's dividing us all and work together for the town's sake.
Insider_07646 December 24, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Good, be the good little bulldog of what you believe to be SOD. I know I haven't ever commented on this patch before so I can't be that person you are thinking of but I don't owe you any explanation, do I Ulises? You assume that just because you don't know something that it isn't true?? Wow they really are going to eat you alive when this is all said and done. At the end of the SOD issue, and there will be an ed, the parties will all go back to their corners and leave you out there on your own...and its cold out there my friend..cold and lonely. Also, please after all your innane personal attacks and comments that I have been forced to endure reading, don't you dare tell someone else to stop, especially when they begin to frighten you.
Christina Martini December 25, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Dear Mr. Drake, this is my first post here because I will be one of the people hurt by this development and you seem to be so cavalierly advocating for it. I have been following Patch, and I would like to echo the sentiments of those who ask “what will happen to the people who will be hurt by this?” I am waiting with a fearful heart for that answer. This seems to matter to SOD, but that doesn’t seem to matter to you politicians. Please don’t tell me you’re not a politician because I read back over your posts and all you seem to talk about is the Democrats and the Republicans, things that shouldn’t even matter. I question whether you are motivated by public interest or by personal interest. I want you to realize when you are attacking SOD, you are irresponsibly attacking hundreds of NM residents, many of whom are being hurt by your hateful comments. Who is going to protect us against your wrath? Your personality does not seem to be protective, it seems to be bent on destroying.
Christina Martini December 25, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I got up to page 14 so far in your comments, and here are things you have said: “Hekemian is trying to buy it with his idea of what would be good for him - apartments, mini mall maybe and a new Shop Rite. Our neighbors (SOD) are doing everything possible to keep him from turning our town into a Camden, Paterson or some such similar neighborhood.” “I've been pleading for a ballot slot regarding this issue for the past three years. I believe that something like this which will affect the whole town should be decided by the whole town.” “Hey NM resident - who appointed you the moderator? If Mary wants to yell and scream, it's her prerogative. You seem to declare yourself spokesperson for multiples of readers.” “a Forum worth it's salt does have emotion, does have very strong opinions and does have angry words - otherwise you'd be reading directions on how to grow corn. THAT is a laugh, someone is afraid to post something (even anonymously) because someone else would lace into them. So, in other words it's Ok to lambaste someone anonymously, but not Ok to retort.” “I think sometimes a poster may simply feel that their post is innocuous & fleeting, but the printed word stays forever no matter who is humiliated, scorned or perhaps at the slightest made to look a fool.” (you may need to take your own advice......) “As far as I'm concerned you are just someone trying to start a problem where there is none.”
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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