WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Supreme Court of New Jersey has scheduled oral arguments on November 12, 2014, from 9:00 am to 11:00 am to begin the determination of the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the township by several residents unhappy with the approval of a $6.3 million dollar bond that would fund infrastructure projects around Prism Capital Partners, LLC proposed downtown redevelopment at the site of the Edison Battery factory.
The oral arguments will determine whether or not the ordinance establishing a $6.3 municipal infrastructure bond approved by the township on March 6, 2012, is valid. West Orange residents Rosary Morelli, Althia Tweiten, Windale Simpson, Mark Meyerowitz and Michael Scharfstein began lawsuits against the township on May 12, 2012, the first filed in Municipal Court after their group, Citizens for Responsible Government Spending, failed to have their petitions certified to go to a referendum vote. The group also objected to the township's approval of a 30 year property tax abatement. That lawsuit and its appeal were decided in favor of the township.
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear the component regarding the ordinance. The plaintiffs claim that the town did not apply for approval from the local Finance Board at the NJS Dept. of Community Affairs after adjustments were made to the Redevelopment plans.
The First Phase of the proposed Edison Village would be comprised of "approximately 333 residential rental units; (ii) approximately 18,500 square feet of commercial retail space; (iii) approximately 31,700 square feet of other amenity support space; and (iv) a parking structure containing approximately 635 spaces (the “Parking Deck”); and (v) such other parking areas as may be approved by the Planning Board in accordance with the provisions of the Redevelopment Plan to accommodate parking for residential and retail uses as hereinafter provided; together with such public infrastructure and improvements relating thereto, including utilities, roadways, pathways, sidewalks, public rights of way and open space, as identified in the Phase 1 Infrastructure Construction Agreement and other amenities on the Edison Battery Parcels (collectively, the “Phase 1 Project”)."
Speculation spearheaded by the group at township council meetings and supported by Councilman Joe Krakoviak, who voted no on the project, have centered around Prism's tardiness in property tax payments, which to date total $549,618.00 on multiple properties including the Battery Factory project at 175 Main Street and properties on Ashland Avenue comprising the site of the old Barton Press building.
As the property owners, Prism has until the end of the year to bring their taxes up to date before the township must consider the default process, though opponents of the project are calling for default proceedings to begin now. In addition, detractors of the project are claiming that there is no reason why Prism cannot begin construction, even with a lawsuit pending.
With mayoral and township council elections looming, Prism and the Downtown Redevelopment project has become a focus of criticism for incumbents Robert Parisi, running for re-election as mayor, and Susan McCartney and Victor Cirilo, seeking re-election for township council.
In an interview with TAP into West Orange, Mayor Parisi commented on Prism, their tardiness in paying taxes and the start of construction, saying, "Why they don’t pay, it’s a little bit discouraging, but they do eventually pay the late fees and the interest and we’re going to continue to work with them and every tax payer who gets behind on their taxes.”
Contrary to his opponents in the mayoral race, Parisi does not believe that Prism's failure to begin construction on the project is due to financial insolvency. "Most of their financing for construction is going to be through lenders in addition to their own equity through their financial partners,” said Parisi, “so no I’m not concerned about that. They are going to have to be current on their taxes before they start the project.”
As for the $6.3 million bond, it would not take effect until the project is well underway and at the point where infrastructure work (roads, sidewalks, etc.) is required. To date, the township has not issued any money or bonds on Prism's behalf.
What many residents may not realize is that Prism has already invested a substantial amount of money in the property, including remediation totaling approximately $60 million dollars as well as paying milliions in property taxes since purchasing the parcels without any offsetting revenue and with carrying fees.
TAP into West Orange will provide updated information as it becomes available.