To the Editor:
With its rich history dating back to well before the American Revolution, New Jersey is famous for, among many other things, its vast mosaic of small, independent municipalities. Generally speaking, the smaller you go, the wealthier and more “exclusive” communities become. But there is one town in this state, that we venture most people in Chatham Township have never heard of, that by far exceeds all others in its tininess and exclusivity.
About 12 miles east of Philadelphia lies the Borough of Tavistock, New Jersey, home to just three – that’s right THREE - residences and the ultra-exclusive Tavistock Country Club. Next year Tavistock will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and this tiny town, which operates like any other, with a mayor, a borough council, administrator etc., has no intention of giving up its independence. And why should it? After all its residents – all three families – pay their taxes and want to be left alone. That’s fine. Indeed, it sounds pretty nice.
But one cannot help but wonder who lives in, and is left alone in, this ultimate enclave of wealth and privilege. One of the three residences is traditionally occupied by the General Manager of the Tavistock Country Club, so there really are only two private residences. One is the home of a private equity investor/former fitness equipment company CEO who was listed as the 10th wealthiest small business owner in America by Forbes magazine. Who might the other resident be? None other than Mr. Joseph Del Duca of the Walters Group; would-be developer of the high-density rental apartment complex to be crammed in among single-family homes on the steep slope property along River Road.
Not only does Mr. Del Duca live in Tavistock, he’s the Mayor! While this admittedly may not have substantive bearing on our obligations with respect to affordable housing, it is certainly interesting to know more about who we are dealing with. This is the man who lectured us about “every municipality having to pay its fair share” and being “behind the curve” in providing affordable housing (at least we think that is what he said – the audio on his presentation was horrible) and implied (multiple times) that his only interest in this deal was “strictly limited” to a small “developer” and “general contractor” fees (while completely ignoring, and brushing off questions about, the obvious – and substantial – financial value of Walters Group owning a fully occupied rental apartment complex in Chatham Township with zero property tax obligation, even if the deed is restricted).
Considering his representations about the minimal impact, we wonder when he will be using his very particular skill of convincing NJ Transit to re-route bus lines so there is one rolling down Tavistock Lane to the local affordable housing complex. I wouldn’t hold your breath and wait for that to happen, sadly Mayor Del Duca is probably more of a do as I say, not as I do type of Mayor.
We are all for profit, and certainly do not begrudge Mr. Del Duca’s tremendous success. We just believe in openness and full disclosure. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Del Duca and the Walters’ Group have a massive incentive in getting this project approved and even have, as admitted during last night’s meeting, a safety net beneath them whereby the Township – not the Walters Group – will become obligated to pay as much as $8 million (or more) to fund the project (that Walters Group will own) if they are not successful in obtaining valuable tax credits that can then be sold (which is certainly not guaranteed).
There is a lot at stake here and the idea that a glossy PowerPoint presentation by Mr. Del Duca – wherein, just for one example, the multi-million dollar contribution to this project from the Township’s coffers was cryptically labeled on a pie chart as “soft debt” (because we give it to him but he never has to pay it back) – is sufficient to alleviate the community’s concerns about this ill-conceived project is laughable. At a minimum, sound due diligence should have involved truly independent studies with respect to everything – i.e., wetlands, erosion, endangered bats, traffic, sewage– and thorough (and public) analysis of multiple candidate builders, before this project was seriously considered.
Ashley Felice & Mark Hamilton
Candidates for Chatham Township Committee