Hekemian's Original Offer Back On Table; Tied to Property Rezoning
Rezoning property keeps Hekemian's original offer on the table. Calling it "United Water-gate" Councilwoman Hedy Grant calls for special counsel to investigate failure of Mayor and Council to vote on the purchase of United Water property.
Mayor Ann Subrizi informed the council during Monday evening's work session that a phone call placed to Peter Hekemian revealed that if the council rezones the United Water property, the original offer he made to the town in April of 2011 is still on the table.
The original offer that Hekemian made to the Mayor and Council and presented to the residents of New Milford in April 2011 included a 145-space parking lot for use by the borough and school district, and a graded field that could be developed into a soccer field, as well as a new Shoprite, a family restaurant, bank and 10,000 square feet of commercial space for local merchants.
Subrizi said that she also spoke with Inserra who assured her that his current property will remain commercial and intimated that he would be willing to enter into conversations about a potential municipal use for the property, although no specific uses were discussed.
Subrizi argued that a rezoning ordinance would not only allow the borough to exercise tighter control over what is eventually developed on that property, but would also place the borough in a better position to negotiate the reduction in size and scope of the proposed supermarket.
Subrizi said that to not rezone the property, and allow the application to run its course through the Zoning Board, is "too big of a gamble" for the borough.
"Taken aback" by the council's failure to pursue the purchase of the United Water property in the four months that they were given right of first refusal (January to April 2011) Councilwoman Hedy Grant put forth a motion to appoint a special counsel to investigate the failure of the mayor and council to purchase the property or take any further action regarding it.
Specifically, Grant wants to know why members of the council who were present when the initial offer for the property was made, never voted to purchase or rezone the property; why the master plan was never addressed or changed; why Hekemian never appeared before the Mayor and Council; and why, when Council President Howard Berner was approached by the Hackensack Riverkeeper with an offer of $1 million to be donated by the Meadowlands American Dream project fund to be put towards the purchase of the United Water property, the matter wasn't brought to the rest of the council to consider.
Although Berner said that he brought this to Subrizi's attention, she had no recollection. However, Subrizi said that the offer was on the table for only a matter of days during which time the council did not meet and, therefore, they could not vote on it.
Referring to 2011 closed session minutes that had been recently approved for release to the public, Grant questioned then councilman Keith Bachmann's judgement in saying that New Milford didn't have the funds to purchase the property without investigating if funds were to be had.
Responding to Grant's allegations, Councilman Dominic Colucci argued that the previous administration, under the mayoral leadership of Frank DeBari, was responsible for designating the United Water property as the location where New Milford will satisfy it's affordable housing obligation in the 2004 master plan. Given that fact, Colucci said that it was unlikely that administration was seriously pursuing purchasing the property to preserve it as open space.
When Grant's motion failed, Councilman Diego Robalino put forth a motion to consider rezoning the United Water property and having the borough planner craft a rezoning ordinance. That motion passed with Councilwoman Randi Duffie voting with the Republicans in favor.
Council President Howard Berner and Councilman Austin Ashley recused themselves from the vote.
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