ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury officials met behind closed doors this week to discuss the legal ramifications of joining the throng of other municipalities across the nation courting Amazon, Inc. to be the site of the mega-retailer's proposed second American headquarters.
The former Hercules Powder Co. site in Roxbury is 1,200 acres, is close to an interstate highway, has access to railroads and has been empty for years. To some Roxbury officials, that sounds like a good place for Amazon to build its proposed "HQ2" project, a venture expected to bring about 50,000 jobs.
The matter was discussed by the Roxbury Mayor and Council on Tuesday in an executive session under the cloak of “attorney-client privilege,” confirmed Roxbury Township Clerk Amy Rhead and Roxbury Township Counsel Anthony Bucco. Attorney-client privilege is one of the nine exemptions from the state Open Public Meetings Law, the "Sunshine Law," that requires public bodies to discuss most business in public.
“There was no resolution about anybody doing anything,” Rhead stressed. “They might submit a proposal.”
This is not the first time local officials mentioned Amazon when talking about the former Hercules tract. Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, wife of Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo, floated the idea last year at a meeting of the Roxbury Republican Club.
In an interview after that meeting, DeFillippo said she’d met with Amazon representatives as part of her role as a member of the New Jersey Transportation Authority executive board. "Of course, I handed them my business card," she said. "If Amazon is willing to expand in New Jersey, I said Roxbury has the property … I never specifically spoke to the Amazon reps about any particular property."
Contacted today, DeFillippo – in an email – indicated her position hasn’t changed. “I understand the council voted to pursue the Amazon project on Tuesday night,” DeFillippo wrote. “I will support that effort.”
Despite DeFillippo’s comment, there was no vote, according to Bucco. “The council does not vote on anything in executive session,” he said. “From her standpoint, it was a choice of words that didn’t necessarily correctly represent what the council did in executive session. There was no vote in executive session.”
Bucco said the executive session was warranted because Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd wanted legal opinions about the ramifications of submitting an application for the project. "There were some concerns about the application process, whether or not the township would be committed legally if they decided to go down that road," said the lawyer. "That really what the focus was on ... If the council decides to pull the trigger and go after Amazon for that site and have discussions about zoning and impacts and traffic, that would clearly be the subect of open session."
The former Hercules site, flanked by Howard Boulevard, Berkshire Valley Road and Route 46, is owned by Ashland, Inc. It has been unused since the mid-1990s and might present a development challenge due to environmental concerns.
Bucco, who is also a state Assemblyman representing the 25th District, which includes Roxbury, said New Jersey’s high taxation puts it at a disadvantage against other states when big companies are looking for places to build.