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SOD Questions Legality Of Subrizi's Rezoning Conversation With Hekemian

SOD asks for a legal determination on whether Subrizi's phone conversation to Hekemian regarding the possible rezoning of the United Water property by the Mayor and Council is legal.

Based on Zoning Board attorney Scott Sproviero's directive cautioning members of the board from speaking directly to Hekemian regarding his proposed development of the United Water property, Miriam Pickett, Executive Director of SOD (Stop Over Development), asked Borough Attorney Mark Madaio if that directive extended to Mayor Ann Subrizi's phone conversation with the developer, Peter Hekemian, during Monday's Mayor and Council work session.

The proposed development for the 13-acre property includes a 70,500 sq. ft. supermarket, 4300 sq. ft. bank, 221 residential units and a four-story 428 space parking garage.

During the September 10 Mayor and Council work session, Subrizi informed the council that a phone call placed to Peter Hekemian revealed that if the council rezones the United Water property, the original offer he made to the town in April of 2011 is still on the table.

The original offer included a 145-space parking lot for use by the borough and school district, and a graded field that could be developed into a soccer field, as well as a new Shoprite, a family restaurant, bank and 10,000 square feet of commercial space for local merchants.

During the September 10 meeting, Subrizi argued that a rezoning ordinance would not only allow the borough to exercise tighter control over what is eventually developed on that property, but would also place the borough in a better position to negotiate the reduction in size and scope of the proposed supermarket. 

Subrizi said 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. She even posted a message on the Borough's webpage "Do You Want to Gamble Or Look At The Sure Thing?" explaining her position.

During Monday's work session, Subrizi stated that the issue of rezoning has not yet been voted on by the council.

"It's (rezoning) not a done deal," she said. "It's just been voted on to explore."

Still, SOD questioned the legality of the Mayor engaging in a "phonecall with no witnesses."

"Sproviero cautioned all those on the zoning board that it was no longer possible to speak to the applicant because it's before the public and the board," Pickett said.

Acknowledging that he did not know the context in which Sproviero made that statement, Madaio said that it is his opinion that it was legal for Subrizi to speak directly to Hekemian on the matter of rezoning.

Still, Pickett requested a written legal opinion regarding the matter stating, "I think the residents of New Milford deserve an opinion."

tony mac October 09, 2012 at 10:31 AM
On page L-7 on today's Record the article states "Dire foreclosure estimate" and repossessions may climb at least 49 %. Pretty bad isn't it? Yet we have local people and politicians who state the taxes will rise "only 76 dollars". tell me please..... Does it make sense to even take on such a project such as the field of dreams when people are losing their homes? and it may even get worse? Please use some common sense and be considerate of the people who are struggling in this economy. Table the idea and wait until this country gets back on its feet. Stop seeking reelection votes, raising banners, having protests, and posting signs. Have some thought for those less fortunate
Lori Barton October 09, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Tony Mac, please don't confuse these two issues. They are completely separate. SOD has not taken a position on the field of dreams. SOD's position is to keep the United Water property as open space. We urge all residents to attend the SOD sponsored Candidates NIght on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 PM at the David E. Owens Middle School Media Center. You will have the opportunity to question all of the Council candidates on their positions on the United Water property, the field of dreams, and any other issue related to New Milford. This is a great opportunity to be able to cast an informed vote. This is open to all residents, not just SOD members.
tony mac October 09, 2012 at 11:48 AM
As a product of the early sixties I march in protest against the government and it involvements in issues to which we had no need. My issue is still with this same issue....here up to and including the White House. We continually get killes with taxes for useless items...why can't someone save us money rather than digging deeper into our pockets. Msame thelanet save money
Jose A. Camacho, Esq. October 09, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Mr. Mac, the field of dreams is a totally separate project from the proposed development at the United Water Property. If you are concerned about the proposed $76 in taxes the proposed field of dreams will cost you for ten years you should be out there protesting with SOD against Hekemians proposed monstrousity, because that development will likely cost you thousands in taxes because of the added essential services that will be needed. When one calculates the additional cost in expanding the school infrastructure, additional cost in expanding firehouse infrastructure, the cost of additional teachers, EMS, firemen, police, DEP workers, and additional road repair cost. Proposed development at The United Water Property could finish crushing struggling New Milford residents and will change New Milford's make up forever.
anonymous1 October 09, 2012 at 02:44 PM
You're forgetting the 67-72 dollar tax increase for the field of dreams on top of this.
AML October 09, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Regardless of whether the Mayor's action of initiating the phone call to Peter Hekemian was legal, or, not, the fact remains that there is a PERCEPTION OF IMPROPRIETY, since the current application is before the Zoning Board. The questions to ask are....If the Mayor was so concerned, why did she not contact Peter Hekemian at the time the current application was submitted? Why not contact Mr. Hekemian at the commencement of the Zoning Board proceedings? Why contact him now approximately 8 months into the Zoning Board proceedings? Why not have several witnesses while that phone call was placed by the Mayor so that other witnesses could substantiate what transpired, especially since the United Water property issue is an extremely sensitive in our town? Why do it off the cuff without FIRST asking the advice our boro attorney, Mr. Madaio, or, our Zoning Board attorney, Mr. Sproviero, to see whether initiating a phone call to the developer was appropriate? THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE PRUDENT THING TO DO & IT WAS NOT! Mr. Madaio at yesterday's meeting said that he did not know for sure, and would consult with Mr. Sproviero. I truly did not believe that we elected/appointed individuals to run a Mickey Mouse show! Then again, Mickey Mouse would have done the right thing!
AML October 09, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I do understand and agree with you; however, you are definitely confusing the two issues. The Field of Dreams is a totally separate issue that NM residents will have the right to either say they want it, or, not by voting in the upcoming election. The estimate for the Field of Dreams is approximate $3 Million Dollars, and our taxes would be raised anywhere from $60, to, &70, &, possibly as high as $100 PER YEAR FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS. These figures are just estimates at this stage of the game. In other words overall, your final cost could range anywhere from $600 to $1000 & that is for the Field of Dreams only. The development of the United Water Property is a different issue. You yourself said you participated in protests in the 60's, and likewise, SOD is fighting against the development because WE DO NOT WANT OUR TAXES TO BE INCREASED as a result of the proposed development, as well as all of the negative impact that this town will incur if the project proceeds. Jose Camacho provided details in his post about how our taxes would increase. We do not want this to happen as we are concerned for all residents in town.
Tomasina Schwarz October 09, 2012 at 03:16 PM
The re-zoning of a property should not be contingent upon a phone conversation between the mayor and the developer. A municipality should only change the zoning map if it is beneficial to the entire town, not as a "gambling act". The mayor does not seem to have any faith in the duties of the zoning board. The zoning board should only grant a "d" variance if all of the criteria for change is met by the developer. The mayor should understand that, it is the burden of the developer to prove that a variance is beneficial to the entire town. Zoning should never be changed as a result of an application. Zoning should only be changed when it is deemed needed, not a a reaction to multi-millionaires!! It is sad to think that the mayor thinks gambling is the way to create public policy in New Milford. Obviously the developer is running scared and believes that the "D" variance will not be granted, which would allow the building of more than 55 housing units. The mayor is wrong for even attempting to rezone as a result of the current application. The mayor should tell the developer that the process should take it's course, he must make his case with the Zoning Board. The phone conversation between the mayor and developer is inappropriate and should be considered unethical co-horting. Either Hekemian submits a new application or continues the existing one, the phone conversation means nothing!! Rezoning is not the answer. Building a supermarket there is just plain stupid.
Tomasina Schwarz October 09, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Remember, the Zoning Board can be held accountable if the council and the citizens think that they granted the "d" variance without the proper criteria being met. In Oradell, the Council overturned the zoning boards granting of the D variance to the Walgreen's developer, Mr. Diabes. The Zoning Board had it's own lawyer appear to defend it's decision, at a state Superior Court level. Two courts of the state of NJ decided that the zoning board was wrong to allow a business to encroach upon the residential zone. This developer thought he would get away with buying two homes adjacent to a business zone and use the property as the needed buffer between the two zones. This case actually solidified the process of maintaining zones and the illegality of using variances to change residential zones. Our mayor was smart enough to know that we had a good case against the zoning board. The New Milford mayor needs to uphold the land ordinances of her town, not capitulate to developers-for any reason. The developer is scared to continue, this is the time to stay strong-not gamble. Developers always underestimate the power of the people.
Celeste Scavetta October 09, 2012 at 04:15 PM
How can all candidates be represented fairly if Mr. Rebsch is on the Zoning Board and will have to recuse from answering any questions presented to him on United Water and the property it owns. I'd like all residents that do attend please understand this. Legally, Peter Rebsch cannot discuss the application before the Zoning Board of Adjustment until he's cast a final vote. As much as I wholeheartedly respect SOD and all of it's members, I feel this Candidate's Night may end up appearing quite biased with Peter unable to answer. Oh and I'm pissed I can't attend. LOL! Sorry folks -- traveling back on business that evening. Can I have questions prepared and sent in? Or asked on my behalf? Let me know Lori. And thank you all for the good fight and for standing up for your beliefs. I am proud to be a resident of New Milford!
Ulises October 09, 2012 at 04:33 PM
To me, everything reeks like: COLLUSION [kəˈluːʒən] 1. secret agreement for a fraudulent purpose; connivance; conspiracy 2. (Law) a secret agreement between opponents at law in order to obtain a judicial decision for some wrongful or improper purpose ====================== What a mess in the NM Republican Party. The two candidates running are coming up with great ideas for the Suez/United Water property (open space, flood mitigation, etc...), yet they're knocking on doors with Subrizi, Colucci, and Robalino who are ridiculing SOD's name and efforts, telling voters this will be zoned commercial and developed, it's a done deal already, etc... (not to mention a lot of SOD signs being stolen now). What a unified message for the voters - vote for me eventhough the rest of the party is on the other side??? The mayor needs to be investigated because she's secretly meeting, calling parties involved in a real estate transaction in town while hearing proceedings continue at the zoning board, etc... She doesn’t recall things when asked and it's obvious she only cares about Inserra, Hekeminian and SUEZ/United Water's best interest - not concerned citizens. Her legacy is a Supermarket by the high school and the high school field by the middle school or nowhere near the darn school - what a vision for the town's future. Mayor, there’s still time to make things right before it's too late for you and the rest of us.
Tomasina Schwarz October 09, 2012 at 05:14 PM
If we could just convince United Water not to sell the land to any developers...........now and forever......
miriam pickett October 09, 2012 at 05:22 PM
First of all, in answer to Celeste's concerns re the Candidates's night. This is not a one topic meeting. The general public is invited to attend and ask any questions regarding any issue of importance in New Milford. We are trying to arrange for The League of Women's voters to moderate so there is no need to worry about a particular slant to any questions. While Mr. Rebesch cannot answer q uestions regarding the UW property he will be asked for his quakifications and what his vision is for the next 4 years. He can answer questions on a wide variety of topics. Secondly, I agree completely with Uli's comments re the mayor's actions and inactions when faced with this proposal last year. To quote - "what does she know and when did she know it?" It's time to tell the truth Mayor Subrizi.
Ulises October 09, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Mr. Loonam, I could see it now. It's a private sale... It's all Debari's fault... and Subrizi is a great Mayor... Or, it might be another football analogy, like the one you did where you put yourself at a higher level than anyone else... I'm so looking forward to your insightful comments.
Lori Barton October 09, 2012 at 09:23 PM
I'm sorry you won't be there Celeste. Have no concerns about all of the candidates being treated fairly. That is why we are using an impartial moderator. By all means, give your questions to a friend to ask for you. We welcome ALL questions, about ALL issues concerning New Milford.
Ulises October 10, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Mr. Loonam, I believe when your football analogy was made I was not the only one that assumed you were not talking about yourself, since your comment produced many to question the assumed arrogance that your comment personified.
newmilford1967 October 10, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Mr Loonam as what I see is your on the zoning board and you should not talk here.Maybe the attorney for zoning need to be alerted on how you speak here.You my friend do not make any commensense when speaking here or anywhere.Just stop talking please.
Sam B. October 10, 2012 at 04:05 PM
With people like Loonam and Subrizi having a voice in what goes on in our community, no wonder everything is upside down. If you chose to volunteer your time, as many people do, at least do it so it will have a positive effect on NM.
Ulises October 10, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Mr. Loonam, just because I don't have an official town position, as you do, please don't assumeI I don't volunteer my time for different things throughout the community. I also don't know what you are referring to as my interest being only one issue, when you don't even know me. Even with this reply, you're addressing me as you are the better person and you fail to see your condescending demeanor in your comments.
Ulises October 10, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Dr. Loonam, I don't agree with your diagnoses, nevertheless, I'm willing to get to know you. Many of us that comment here get misconstrued and getting to know one another helps to better understand one's position. Thank you for reaching out.

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