WEST ORANGE, NJ - The company at the center of plans to redevelop West Orange’s downtown received final approval on Wednesday from the township’s planning board for the first phase of work, mere hours after settling nearly $125,000 in overdue property taxes.
The board gave its consent to plans for a combined residential and retail project centered on the former Edison Battery building at 175 Main Street. The project, to be known as Edison Lofts and built by Prism Green Urban Renewal Associates, represents the first of three phases of redevelopment planned for the area.
Wednesday’s planning board vote, which was unanimous, ratified minor corrections and clarifications to the language of a resolution passed at the board’s Sept. 5 meeting. That resolution had approved a detailed set of plans for Phase I.
At that earlier meeting, local residents had pointed out that Prism was delinquent on the property taxes it owed to West Orange on the property in question. Records available on the township’s website show that at the time of the Sept. 5 meeting, Prism had not yet paid its third-quarter taxes, due Aug. 1, on the 175 Main Street property in the amount of nearly $114,000. It was also delinquent on third-quarter taxes due on six other properties in West Orange, totaling nearly $10,900.
At township council meetings on Sept. 11 and Oct. 2, council members voiced concern over these revelations. Joe Krakoviak said he was “not comfortable with the idea that the planning board can give approval to an applicant that is delinquent on their taxes.” Council president Victor Cirilo said the township had “no tolerance [for delinquency]. You have to pay your bills. … If not, you suffer the consequences.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, Joanne Gagliardo, the township’s tax collector, confirmed by telephone that Prism had paid all its arrears earlier in the day. The planning board meeting was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m.
This is not the first time Prism has settled its property tax bills very shortly before a planning board meeting. Records show it failed to pay either its first-quarter or second-quarter 2012 taxes on the 175 Main street property on time. These payments were due Feb. 1 and May 1 respectively. Prism ultimately paid these taxes on July 10. The planning board met to consider Prism’s application, among others, on July 11.
Councilwoman Susan McCartney, a member of the planning board, said at the Sept. 11 council meeting that planning board rules only require that an applicant be current on its taxes at the time of its original application, and that Prism had complied with this rule. Moreover, she said, “When they pull their permits, they have to be current [on their taxes].” Construction permits for Edison Lofts have not yet been issued by the West Orange building department.
Resident Rosary Morelli, however, disputed the claim that the planning board had properly ensured that Prism was up-to-date on its taxes at the time of application. This information could not be independently confirmed at press time.
Construction on the Edison Lofts is unlikely to begin right away. The planning board’s ruling may be appealed within 45 days, and construction permits must still be issued. In the meantime, several council members have pledged to investigate other concerns raised by residents at recent meetings. Notably, Prism is embroiled in a legal dispute with Wells Fargo over the mortgage on a property in the redevelopment area, the so-called Barton Press site on Lakeside Street. In response to this, and the revelations about Prism’s prior tax delinquency, Councilman Jerry Guarino, at the Sept. 11 meeting, called on the council to examine Prism’s balance sheet to determine the state of its financial health.