BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater Township Council apparently won’t back a P.I.L.O.T. (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program regarding the town’s most ambitious redevelopment project.
The township’s governing body voted unanimously April 11 to deny the township’s interest in, approval of or execution of a long term tax exemption financial agreement of almost 62 acres in all located on Route 202/206, commonly referred to as the Center of Excellence.
“We do have an obligation to figure out what to do with the site,” said council president Matthew Moench.
He also said that no official traffic studies have been done. That notion has been supported by a number of town residents who have come forward for months to complain about how the Center would increase traffic in that area to nightmarish levels, including nearly a dozen speakers the night of the agenda session alone.
“The site is woefully too large to accommodate traffic,” added Moench.
He also brought up the town’s Council on Affordable Housing, and said the township is not hiding behind the COAH settlement as in the past, when the municipality was roughly 1,000 COAH residential units short of its obligation, which has since been fulfilled.
“Moving forward, the council must take responsibility on the project,” said Moench, “and not let it sit.”
The council also withdrew a resolution that evening that would have expressed the “sense of the council with regard to any fees to be paid pursuant to a tax abatement (P.I.L.O.T./financial agreement) by a residential component of a redevelopment area.”
Moench said the current town administration has doubled down on the Center of Excellence, and added that the developer has to be brought back to the table to figure out the project. Moench said he has not heard anyone saying what a great project the Center is, which he finds “stunning” in a town of some 45,000 residents.
The Center project, if approved, includes 400 rental apartment units, retail shops, restaurants, a hotel and a supermarket.
Councilman Howard Norgalis said the mayor had said that pursuing a P.I.L.O.T. was a council decision. Norgalis, who was not in favor of the P.I.L.O.T., added to applause that tax distribution should occur at the regular rate, including with the fire district.
Moench stated that developers should be paying the township more money, not less, and thus he was also against a P.I.L.O.T.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said the council has been dealing with the Center of Excellence for years now. He added that Bridgewater Mayor Dan Hayes had believed very strongly in a P.I.L.O.T., and had presented it in a meeting in October.
Pedroso pointed out that the P.I.L.O.T. back then had not included provisions for Bridgewater-Raritan’s schools, which he said take more taxes than the township does. He estimated that the Center will increase the number of schoolchildren in town, and could cause the school district to increase taxes.
“The resolution today is an important step,” said Pedroso, who added that if it was ratified, there would be no need to negotiate a P.I.L.O.T.
Norgalis also told the public that night that the strongest message came from them, Bridgewater’s voters.
Pedroso said he would support the resolution, as did Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose. She also said she would like to talk more about the pros and cons of a P.I.L.O.T. following the election, when discussions are less likely to be emotional, and Moench replied he saw that as a valid request.
At the start of the meeting, Rose asked to have defined rules of engagement for discussions and disagreements with fellow council members. That was after an exchange of heated words at a council meeting in March, and she added she did not want to leave a meeting again where she felt she had been disrespected.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla said the P.I.L.O.T. had been discussed politically, but that more was needed.
“We should have a discussion about it, and how it would affect the township,” he said.
Township administrator James Naples said he disagreed with Pedroso regarding the mayor and the P.I.L.O.T. Naples said Hayes had not pushed for the P.I.L.O.T., and could only negotiate it.
Naples also pointed out that the council had hired a special attorney in 2017, and that the mayor had come to the council for direction.
Naples finished by saying that Hayes would not negotiate a P.I.L.O.T. if the council did not agree to it, and that pursuing a P.I.L.O.T. was the council’s decision. The council then approved the resolution by a 5-0 vote.