The Bayonne City Council caucus meeting on April 13, usually benign and procedural, devolved into a debate on meeting procedures between council members who are running against each other in the upcoming May 10 municipal election.
The conversation was sparked regarding agenda items pertaining to a redevelopment agreement for land on the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY.)
Ahead of the municipal election, City Council President and mayoral candidate Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski has been criticizing the redevelopment deal regarding the value of the property.
Brief recap of controversial redevelopment
The deal at the center of discussion is between the city and Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal, a subsidiary of Boraie Development, of which Wasseem Boraie is the vice president. Ashe-Nadrowski first criticized the deal between the Boraie subsidiary and the city following a Politico report that Boraie had donated $25,000 to the now-defunct Government for the People political action committee (PAC) to re-elect Mayor James Davis for a third term.
Ashe-Nadrowski criticized the deal, noting the land was probably now worth $60 million more than when the agreement was signed in 2015, and that Davis was close with the redeveloper. However, she said she was still unsure which way she would vote, and didn’t mind if the Boraie subsidiary redeveloped the lot but that they “needed to pay their fair share.”
The Davis campaign countered that the project is a key part of Davis’ vision to revitalize Bayonne and alleged Ashe-Nadrowski was trying to sabotage the proposed redevelopment. The campaign noted that she had voted to approve it in the past as well as for a payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement, and that the “stunt” would lead to legal trouble for the city.
Following that back-and-forth with the Davis campaign, Ashe-Nadrowski announced that she would draft the necessary resolutions and ordinances to reopen negotiations for the land. She said the land is now worth nearly $95 million, as opposed to roughly $35 million per the agreement.
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.
In response to Ashe-Nadrowski’s proposal, the Davis campaign called it “insane” and claimed it would lead to legal trouble with redevelopers. Davis campaign spokesperson Phil Swibinski said this redevelopment was a “critical” part of the revitalization of MOTBY, and could cost taxpayers if it does not come to fruition.
While Davis has put a pause on redevelopment, he said MOTBY was excluded from this due the revenue and jobs the redevelopment there brings the city.
Recently, Ashe-Nadrowski held a virtual press conference announcing that she would be introducing two resolutions and one ordinance at the April 20 council meeting to nullify the redevelopment agreement, re-list the property for sale through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, and to rescind the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement. To which, the Davis campaign was mum.
And while the Planning Board was set to hear final site plan review for the site on April 12, due to time constraints only the major subdivision was approved. This seemingly provided Ashe-Nadrowski with an opening to move to introduce the items at the April 13 caucus council meeting and the April 20 regular council meeting.
At the caucus meeting, the resolutions and ordinance were moved by Ashe-Nadrowski and seconded by Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace.
Carroll moves to cancel items
Despite Ashe-Nadrowski’s best efforts to void the deal, she faces stiff opposition on the city council. First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez are running on a slate with Davis against Ashe-Nadrowski.
Carroll made a motion to rescind the ordinance, to which Law Director Jay Coffey clarified would be a motion for reconsideration. However, his motion was premature and unsuccessful, because City Clerk Madelene Medina said that now was not the time to do so.
“That’s not something we would vote on right now,” Medina said. “You have to do that at the meeting when it’s officially introduced. And it’s something you would vote on at the meeting.”
“This puts us in a very negative position,” Carroll said. “I don’t believe this ordinance should be added on the agenda for the next meeting and be passed or not passed.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion, but there’s a process,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “We’re just sticking with the process.”
Medina said moving and passing is a formality and that the items won’t be officially introduced at the next meeting. She added this was just a working session.
After the meeting, Ashe-Nadrowski criticized Carroll for trying to quash the agenda items.
“Once again, Neil Carroll has shown that he doesn’t want public participation at council meetings,” Ashe-Nadrowski said in a statement following the meeting. “This is not the first time he has voted against the public’s right to be heard.”
Ashe-Nadrowski also hit Carroll and the rest of the council for previously not seconding a motion to open the public hearing for an ordinance for the original Caschem redevelopment and for voting against an ordinance that Ashe-Nadrowski proposed that she said would have mandated public input on ordinances.
Legal counsel opposed
In addition to Carroll’s objection to the agenda items, Law Director Jay Coffey and Special Redevelopment Counsel John Wyciskala also objected to the aforementioned agenda items during the caucus meeting.
Wyciskala asked the council to go into executive session, citing attorney client privilege issues. Medina clarified that there is no closed or executive session at caucus meetings, because they are working sessions.
“We’re just following procedure,” Ashe-Nadrowski said.
“If it’s on your agenda, it may result in legal proceedings,” Wyciskala said.
Medina countered: “it’s not going to result in anything because we’re not taking a vote.”
Ashe-Nadrowski agreed: “We’re not taking any action tonight, it’s an open workshop.”
Later, Coffey agreed with Wyciskala: “There was discussion of the net effect of two resolutions and an ordinance being just on the agenda we’re going to be. It could be between now and next Wednesday, papers may be filed in effect, in anticipatory breach of contract.”
Ashe-Nadrowski asked if Coffey was speaking as an attorney on behalf of the redeveloper or the city.
“I’m speaking on behalf of the city here because I’m aware of the fact this may entail having to respond to legal proceedings,” Coffey said. Ashe-Nadrowski thanked him for his opinion.
After the meeting, Ashe-Nadrowski alleged both attorneys wanted the meeting to go into closed session to prevent the public from hearing anything regarding the project.
“It feels like the city’s attorneys care more about the developer than they do the city. I am not sure they understand they represent the city not the developer,” stated Ashe Nadrowski. “I intend to fight to have a full and open discussion on this project, in front of the public, and not in some backroom where attorneys and my fellow council members can hide.”
Ashe-Nadrowski calls for passage of legislation
In a post-meeting press release, Ashe-Nadrowski further outlined her opposition to the redevelopment deal and supporting PILOT.
The PILOT on the project was approved in 2017 and was based upon an application submitted by the redeveloper that described the project as a multi-family residential development between 500 and 850 units, she said. As part of the application, the redeveloper submitted financials related to the anticipated revenue and costs of the project and the city, in reliance of the project description and financials, made an assessment of the need for the PILOT.
“The project that the PILOT was awarded on no longer exists and should be canceled.” stated Ashe Nadrowski. “The developer has chosen, on their own, to increase the project from 850 units to 1,250 – a 47 percent increase. That increase was not considered by the City when granting the PILOT. No assessment on the benefits of this new project were ever presented or considered by the City.”
According to Ashe-Nadrowski, the cancellation of the PILOT would mean that the project would be subject to regular municipal, county and school taxes. Under the current PILOT no money would be paid to the school district, she said.
“The impact of this 1,250 unit project was never considered by the City and shortchanges the school district.” said Bayonne Board of Education Trustee Jodi Casais, who is Ashe-Nadrowski’s At-Large City Council candidate. “The amount of effort that Team Davis has put to support this developer only goes to show how little they care about residents. Whether it’s big water companies or big developers, one thing you can count on is that Jimmy only cares about them.”
Regarding the termination of the contract for the sale of the land, Ashe-Nadrowski argues that the contract clearly states that the developer had to buy the property within 48 months of the signing of the contract. That time period expired in November 2021, she said.
“Why would the city sell property at a reduced rate when the contract expired?” asked Ashe Nadrowski. “As widely reported, the developer gave a $25,000 donation to a PAC, which hired a convicted murder to work for the Davis Campaign. That alone should be reason enough for the city to rethink this deal.”
Davis has previously defended the 2015 value for property, citing that doing otherwise would sabotage the development of MOTBY, and open the city up to legal liability. However, the Davis campaign has yet to comment since Ashe-Nadrowski officially drafted the resolutions and ordinance regarding this particular redevelopment.
“For anyone that suggests asking for the fair market value of this property would sabotage the development of the Military Ocean Terminal, I would recommend that they take a ride down Goldsborough Drive,” said Ashe Nadrowski. “The redevelopment and revitalization of MOTBY is already happening. Asking the developer to pay its fair share in taxes and for the purchase of the land value is about standing up for residents and taxpayers. They don’t deserve to be short-changed by a big developer. They deserve a city council and a mayor that will fight for them.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.