RARITAN TWP., NJ – A claim that Flemington Car & Truck Country violated township zoning rules brought Steve Kalafer, one of its principals, to the Township Committee last night.
In a letter to Kalafer’s Buick, Chevy, GMC and Cadillac dealership, township zoning officer Michael Pessolano wrote that the company could be fined for the allegations, which include “more than 100 dealership vehicles stored on unpaved areas,” contrary to the dealership’s preliminary major site plan.
Kalafer didn’t challenge Pessolano’s allegation, but rather railed against the way Pessolano sought to enforce the township’s rules.
Kalafer and his attorney Anthony Koester persuaded the Township Committee to endorse a resolution that would allow the vehicle storage, which will require approval by the township Planning Board. But the committee’s consent followed a threat by Kalafer to locate his dealerships elsewhere.
“I do believe in courtesy and respect,” Kalafer told officials. “I’m parking cars on property that I own because of the economic conditions of automobile manufacturers.”
Kalafer complained that, “I get a certified letter from the township that I have operated and worked in for 37 years, built my businesses, employed many of the residents and ... he sends a letter, doesn’t stop by and have the courtesy of respect and decency and tell me what his issues are.
“So I get a certified letter in the mail that I will be fined if I don’t do certain things. That’s not how I do business,” Kalafer continued. “I don’t want any particular help. But I do want my employees and my business respected by this town that I pay, have paid millions of dollars in taxes, have spent millions of dollars on community efforts and I have some anonymous person ... who doesn’t come to my office to sit down and say, ‘We have an issue. How can we resolve it?’ It’s not the way I do business.”
The letter was sent on a municipal letterhead and was signed by Pessolano, who included information on how Kalafer could appeal his ruling. Pessolano did not attend last night's meeting and did not immediately respond to a TAPinto's request for comment on Kalafer's remarks.
“If this town continues on the path that it is I have great fear for me being able to continue to do business here,” Kalafer told Township Committee.
Kalafer offered his solution – an ordinance that would “allow us to temporarily park on property that we own ... a common sense solution instead of having the bureaucracy, the people that are in charge.
“I don’t like it. It’s not right. I don’t do it in my business ... Just because you have power and authority doesn’t mean that you have earned it or deserve it,” Kalafer said.
Committeeman Lou Reiner said the matter had been “handled shoddily, and there is no excuse for it.” He said it would have been simple for Pessolano “to pick up the phone. It was not done.”
“We need to operate a little more as if we were back in the days of Little House on the Prairie,” Reiner said.
“I agree it was an error in judgment and the way it was handled,” said Mayor Karen Gilbert. “If we could take it back, we would.”
Kalafer did promise, “I can assure you that I am not selling the dealerships” but said he’s “in the logistics business ... and these can be car storage areas under your zoning ordinance. “
Kalafer stressed that he sought no special treatment.
“My concern is I have a voice that people will listen to,” he said. “I’m worried about all of the people here whose names you don’t know ... who Mr. Pessolano or people in the zoning department run rough-shod over ... They need to understand that there’s a give-and-take, and that there’s not just the official might of your hand but there has to be a way that people work together.”
“I have choices,” Kalafer said. “A lot of people don’t have choices. They have to cower before the boards or the committees. They have to say, ‘Yes, please, and don’t hurt me.’ There’s nobody here that can hurt me. But there are people who can hurt themselves and the community.”
Kalafer said he responded to Pessolano’s letter in writing, but never heard back. He and Koester agreed to pursue the ordinance revision they seek through the Planning Board, which meets this evening.