The Bayonne City Council has not taken any action on two resolutions and an ordinance seeking to restart the redevelopment process for a site at the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne.
The council took no action on the proposals by City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski at its April 20 meeting. At the start of the meeting, the council went into a brief closed session about the matters, opting not to discuss anything further until the measures came up for a vote later.
At the approximately four-hour mark, Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace left the meeting due to a family emergency. Gullace had previously provided the pivotal second to Ashe-Nadrowski’s motion on each item at the city council’s caucus meeting.
The municipal legislation was already set to be voted down by the council, considering the opposition voiced by First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez. All three are running on a council slate with Mayor James Davis in the upcoming May 10 municipal election against mayoral candidate Ashe-Nadrowski and her slate.
With Gullace’s absence, the measures failed without a vote when each came before the council after his departure. Regardless, Ashe-Nadrowski still hammered home her points about the deal that she has been making in recent weeks.
According to Ashe-Nadrowski: the redeveloper is in breach of contract because the land sale has not been closed since the agreement was inked in 2015; the price of the land has dramatically increased from $35 million to $95 million since that time; and the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for the project was for 850 but now the redeveloper intends to construct 1,250 units.
In response to Ashe-Nadrowski questions, Special Redevelopment Counsel John Wyciskala said the redevelopment agreement and redevelopment plan had been previously amended to allow the 1,250 units. Ashe-Nadrowski said that the PILOT had not been amended by the council, to which Wyciskala confirmed he was unaware of that. Wyciskala also confirmed that the deal does say that it has to be closed within 48 months, however, there were other factors that he could not discuss that contributed to it being allowed otherwise.
No funding for school district in current PILOT
Another point of contention for Ashe-Nadrowski was the lack of money allocated to the school district from the PILOT. Earlier in the meeting, during the public comment portion, Bayonne Board of Education Vice President Christopher Munoz said he attended the meeting with six other board trustees to advocate for the agenda items or if the council votes it down to instead reallocate 10 percent of the PILOT’s revenue to the school district, to the tune of approximately $3 million.
Munoz said that his comments were not political and that the board was advocating on behalf of the children in the school district and not against the labor unions that would construct the project.
“Myself and the Board of Education trustees have a big problem with this deal,” Munoz said. “The reason being is the board has not been cut in. We will not be cut in to the tax base of the project. It was passed in 2015. This is 2022 and we live in a dramatically different world than we did back then. It’s estimated that we would lose up to $3 million a year.”
Munoz added that the district is already overcrowded and the additional students would pose problems on top of not having any funds go to the board.
“Not to mention the fact that of 1,250 units, if even 300 students come out of that project, you’re going to overpack buildings that are already overcrowded,” Munoz said. “Because of the way the district is, the only two schools they would go to would be Lincoln of Horace Mann, both already at capacity.”
Cutting the Board of Education in on the deal
If the council was not going to act on the deal, Munoz wanted it to cut the Board of Education in. He noted that with the recurring $3 million, the district can hire new teachers or create new programs. Ashe-Nadrowski added the $60 million the city could get under a new deal could even fund the construction of new schools.
“If we can’t do the deal, I’m calling on the city council to cut the board of education in on the ten percent of their revenue that we would get from a PILOT,” Munoz said. “That’s the right thing to do for the schools.”
Law Director Jay Coffey noted that the PILOT in its current state did not include any funds for the school district. But Coffey said that the council could do so via a resolution to amend the agreement, to which La Pelusa and Carroll were in favor of but with the caveat that the money would be reallocated after the city received it from the redeveloper and would not affect the current deal.
“Perhaps I’m biased because I’m a teacher, but I think the school district should receive some funds in accordance with the way Councilman La Pelusa laid out,” Carroll said.
In response to Ashe-Nadrowski and other overall concerns regarding funds for the school district, Carroll accused it of being political theater and a distraction since the council can allocate funds to the district going forward. He said the “real issue” was the targeting of the deal because of who the redeveloper supported politically.
“It’s not the first time ordinances or resolutions were introduced by a member of this council against a private individual for no other reason than they just didn’t support that person,” Carroll said. “Because if there are other reasons than that, they are far too heinous to discuss.”
Union labor and more political sparring
Carroll also touted the redeveloper’s commitment to use union labor to construct the project. He called the attempts by Ashe-Nadrowski to start over on the redevelopment “an assault” on the union laborers who could potentially work on the project and questioned the motive behind upending the project.
In response, Ashe-Nadrowski voted she was, in fact, pro-labor union, she still felt that the project should support the school district simultaneously and that it wasn’t a choice between one or the other. She also pointed out the hypocrisy of Carroll saying it was political considering redeveloper Wasseem Boraie made a donation to him during his first fundraiser back in 2019.
In turn, Carroll accused Ashe-Nadrowski of not disclosing campaign donors, an allegation the she quickly refuted. He is referencing two political action committees (PAC) that have spent money on mailers supporting Ashe-Nadrowski’s bid for mayor.
“My campaign, my ELEC form, is out there Mr. Carroll, and they’re all disclosed,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I don’t have a lot of money, it’s not a big campaign and everything’s disclosed. I followed all the filings.”
Carroll asked about the filings for the nonprofit 501c4 Committee to Advance New Jersey, one of the aforementioned PACs. Since it is a non-profit, it is not required to disclose donors, which Ashe-Nadrowski said that Carroll knows, and that the council should refrain from discussing politics further since it had encompassed much of the earlier hours of the meeting.
No second on the agenda items
While moved by Ashe-Nadrowski, the ordinance to rescind the PILOT failed to get a second by any member of the council. The same thing played out for the resolutions.
When it came time for a vote on the resolution to re-list the property for sale through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, Ashe-Nadrowski had another proposal. She motioned to notice that the redeveloper was in default of the agreement, which did not receive a second. The original resolution did not get a second either.
However, La Pelusa moved to reallocated 10 percent of the funds received by the city for the project to the school district. La Pelusa said he was against PILOT agreements because they “short change” the county and school district.
“I’m very happy to give them the 10 percent the way that we’re doing it,” La Pelusa said. “So this way there’s still a project and there’s still 10 percent going to the board.”
Ashe-Nadrowski joined the rest of the council in voting to approve the resolution. However, due to the nature of the resolution, the council will likely need to pass future agenda items to ensure the money is actually reallocated to the district.
Following that, Ashe-Nadrowski’s resolution to void the redevelopment agreement with Bayonne Partners Urban Renewal, LL, a subsidiary of Boraie Development of which Wasseem Boraie is a Vice President, also did not receive a second from the council.
Is redeveloper’s past donation a conflict?
At the time, Third Ward City Council candidate Peter Franco addressed the council, noting redeveloper Wasseem Boraie’s $25,000 contribution to the now-defunct Government for the People PAC created by former state Senator Ray Lesniak to support Davis’ bid for a third term.
Franco, holding up a golf tournament-sized check representing the donation, told the council they should vote it down because the donation represented an ethical conflict of interest. In response, La Pelusa accused him of being “sour grapes” that he did not receive such donation.
Coffey then said that there is no conflict since the deal pre-dates the donation. He also reiterated that terminating the deal would put the city at a risk for litigation that could be costly, to which Ashe-Nadrowski responded that she feels it is a risk worth taking.
“For me, I feel that it’s worth pursuing because it’s $60 million we’re not willing to fight for,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “$60 million that can really make an impact in our city. To bring that in, that would be money that comes to the City of Bayonne. With part of it going to the schools, it could help solve so many problems.”
However, Ashe-Nadrowski’s calls for the passage of her proposed measures fell on deaf ears as the council did not act on any of them. Instead, the project will move forward.
With final major subdivision approval granted, the redeveloper is set to receive final site plan approval at the Bayonne Planning Board’s next regular meeting. And in a twist of irony, that meeting will be held on May 10, Election Day.
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.