A proposed redevelopment at the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) has become a major point of contention between mayoral candidates in the May 10 municipal election.
City Council President and mayoral candidate Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski is urging passage of two resolutions to nullify the redevelopment agreement with Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal, LLC, and to re-list the property for sale through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process.
Nadrowski is also introducing an ordinance revoking the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for the site.
The move comes after Ashe-Nadrowski announced she would seek to reopen negotiations for the land she says is undervalued by $60 million under the current redevelopment agreement. According to Ashe-Nadrowski, the proposed resolutions and ordinance will all be added to the agenda at the April 13 caucus meeting and be up for introduction at the April 20 regular meeting of the Bayonne City Council.
“This is not complicated,” Ashe-Nadrowski said in a virtual press conference on the morning of April 8. “The developer has no right to the property. They were required to close on the property by November 3, 2021. The agreement specifically states that closing needs to occur 48 months after the effective date.”
Reopening negotiations for MOTBY land
Wasseem Boriae is the vice president of Boraie Development and the principal behind Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal. In 2015, Boraie was designated the redeveloper of a portion of the now highly desirable real estate that was MOTBY.
The agreement between the city and Boraie as redeveloper was inked on November 3, 2017. According to Ashe-Nadrowski, the agreement required a closing on at least a portion of the property to occur within 48 months. Because that has not occurred yet and the deadline has passed, she said the city is not legally obligated to the deal and thus seeks to void the agreement with the first proposed resolution.
“The city has no legal ability or obligation to transfer this property to the developer and the developer has no rights to force a sale of the property.” she said.
The second resolution would re-list the property and issue Requests For Proposals. Ashe Nadrowski believes that the property should be re-listed for sale by the city to permit other redevelopers the opportunity to propose plans and bid for the property.
“This allows the city to undertake a public, transparent request for proposal process for the sale of the property,” she said. “As I have stated, Bayonne needs change – residents deserve a voice in this process and a fair price for the site. Seven years ago the site was valued at about $35 million dollars; today, that property is worth between $65 to $95 million.”
Rescinding the PILOT, too
Ashe-Nadrowski also seeks to introduce an ordinance to rescind the financial agreement previously entered into between the city and Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal for the property.
At the time, when the 30-year PILOT was granted by the city in 2017, the redeveloper had submitted an application for a project with a maximum of 850 residential units. The redeveloper currently has a site plan pending approval of 1,250 residential units, which Ashe-Nadrowski said goes against the PILOT agreement.
“The size of the project has increased by 47 percent,” she said. “None of the financials used as a basis for the original PILOT are valid anymore. That math, like the original project, no longer exists.”
The state law permitting the granting of tax abatements requires that the municipality undertake an analysis of the financial needs of the project and weigh them against the benefits to the residents, according to Ashe-Nadrowski. She noted this is commonly referred to as the “but for test.”
“I am introducing an ordinance to revoke the PILOT on the site based on two facts: the city has no legal ability to transfer this property to the developer and the developer has no rights to the property; and that PILOT was based on a 850 unit project not a 1,250 project,” she said.
Getting a ‘better deal’
MOTBY is no longer a barren wasteland waiting to be developed, but is home to thousands of residential units and large commercial spaces, according to Ashe-Nadrowski.
Responding to the Davis campaign’s previous assertions that meddling with this redevelopment would jeopardize the overall revitalization at MOTBY, Ashe-Nadrowski countered that the area is already bustling with construction and other activities and that the redeveloper should pay the current value of the land.
According to Ashe-Nadrowski, the city can get a better deal considering the land is worth approximately $95 million now, as opposed to $35 million when the agreement was first signed.
“We need a mayor who is willing to stand up for us and fight against developers who just want to profit off Bayonne. Let me be clear – no more sweetheart deals for big developers and donors.”
Previously, the campaign for Mayor Davis, one of the candidates whom Ashe-Nadrowski is running against, retorted that the idea was “insane” and that the deal with Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal was “ironclad.”
“Sharon Nadrowski’s insane plan to break an ironclad contract that she herself supported and her campaign manager Joe DeMarco personally negotiated for the city would be one of the most irresponsible, nonsensical actions Bayonne could ever take,” said campaign spokesman Phil Swibinski.
“If Nadrowski succeeds the developer would sue, Bayonne taxpayers would be forced to pay millions of dollars in legal fees and the city would lose in court, plain and simple. This would set an incredibly dangerous precedent that could open the city up to significant legal liability in other development projects, potentially costing taxpayers millions.”
In response to that statement from the Davis campaign, Ashe-Nadrowski said: “Mayor Davis’ claim that this agreement is “ironclad” is just another lie. The only thing that is ironclad is Jimmy’s willingness to take the side of political donors over residents. We need to vote for change on May 10.”
Spicy council meeting ahead
However, in response to this announcement, the Davis campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The council is set to meet next on Wednesday, April 20 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.