Sunday, October 08, 2006

City Presses Developer On Occupancy Issues

Workers stream into the gleaming new downtown office building on weekdays and its commercial portion is nearly all leased out, but the Park-Madison complex has yet to receive final occupancy approvals.

According to an Oct. 4 letter from Planning Director William Nierstedt to the developer, AST Development Corp. of Lavallette, fewer than half of 56 conditions imposed by the Planning Board have been carried out. In order to receive a final certificate of occupancy for the entire project, the developer must meet all the conditions.

Issues range from the kind of trees planted on West Front Street to repair of the polymer sidewalk brick sidewalk system. The developer also agreed to fund street improvements and to fix and install an antique street clock in the building’s plaza. The list of conditions dates back to February 2001 and a fourth inspection in November showed that only 22 have clearly been met.

Councilman Cory Storch, the council liaison to the Planning Board, raised the issue of unmet obligations in August, when the council voted to give AST conditional approval as developer of the Marino’s tract on West Front Street. Storch cited “a number of unresolved issues” at the previous project and said, “I hope they will be resolved before they come back to us.”

His concern, voiced at the Aug. 23 regular meeting, brought a sharp retort from new City Council President Rayland Van Blake, who said, “I do not appreciate the way in which you brought your issue to the council.”

CORRECTION: Van Blake said Oct. 12 he was referring to a comment about interviews for boards and commissions, not to a redevelopment issue.

Van Blake in turn won praise from Assemblyman Jerry Green for exerting his new authority.

“It has taken you less than one meeting to grow up and be a professional,” said Green, who is also the Democratic City Committee’s chairman and mentor to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Robinson-Briggs has been pushing for speedy development of the Marino’s tract as well as several other major sites. Development of the Marino’s tract could bring a supermarket and other commercial development to the West End. The council agreed in June to put the Union County Improvement Authority in charge of numerous redevelopment projects.

The UCIA also has charge of the Park-Madison site. Its executive director is Union County Democratic Committee Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo, who last year dumped former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams from the party ranks just before the April filing date for the June primary. McWilliams sought a third term as mayor, but lost both the primary and general election to Robinson-Briggs.

The Park-Madison building was the first new downtown development in several decades. It houses numerous state and county offices that had been scattered around the city and the county. On its web site, AST describes it as a $28 million project. The governmental office portion is tax-exempt. Under a “payment in lieu of taxes” deal with the city, the city will receive $100,000 in taxes on the commercial portion for the 2007 fiscal year.

Among issues still to be worked out:

-Repair of cracks in the stamped brick streetscape.
-An agreement between the city and the county for public use of the parking deck on weekends.
-Public use of the plaza in front of the building and maintenance provisions.
-Reconstruction of Park Avenue between Front and Second streets.
-Repair of the old Park Jewelers street clock and installation in the plaza.

The letter also details the need for screening waste receptacles and notes various discrepancies in window and door details from what the original plans showed.

Until all the conditions are met, the project will not get a final certificate of occupancy.

According to press reports, the building received the temporary certificate of occupancy in April 2005 and gradually filled up over ensuing months. No ribbon-cutting or other ceremony has yet been held, nor has the county-owned building received any official name other than Park-Madison.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home