Monday, September 14, 2009

Council Withdraws Tax Break Ordinance

Lower left, developer Glen Fishman watching the mayor lead a May 20 celebration of the new senior center, which was opened on a one-day temporary certificate of occupancy.

An ordinance to work toward a tax abatement for buyers of condos at "The Monarch" project was withdrawn at Monday's regular City Council meeting.

The ordinance is expected to be discussed in closed session Sept. 24 and action may be taken that night. The City Council also expects to introduce the state fiscal year 2010 budget on Sept. 24 at the special meeting, 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.

On Monday, City Council President Rashid Burney prompted City Administrator Marc Dashield to acknowledge the withdrawal.

"Did you want to talk about withdrawal of one item?" Burney asked.

Dashield's face took on a quizzical look.

But Burney then said, "We're not going to vote on it tonight," referring to the tax abatement ordinance.

Burney said information needed before the council could vote "just got to Marc hours ago."

Even though city interaction with developer Glen Fishman dates back to 2006 and a development agreement was signed in January 2007, the governing body is now reviewing the deal and the reasons why the developer is now seeking city approval for a tax abatement. The building at 400 East Front Street has a new senior center and veterans center on the ground floor and 21 condos on each of three upper floors. Although it is not spelled out in the ordinance, officials say Fishman wants a five-year abatement allowing condo buyers to pay only 40 percent of city taxes.

The ordinance passed on first reading in July, but did not go on to second reading and final passage due to a public outcry and council questions. Last Tuesday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs cautioned a group of seniors outside the council's agenda-fixing session that the building, including the new center, could be lost to the city if the tax break was not granted. There was nothing on the agenda about a tax amendment and seniors did not get a chance to speak until past 11 p.m.

Since then, several bloggers have written about the development agreement and one even put it up online in an effort to resolve questions on its terms. Seniors who have been meeting in leased space at 305 East Front Street since 1989 mostly want to know when they can move to the new center.

Meanwhile, officials are asking the developer to explain his situation and why the proposed tax break is needed to ward off converting the condos to rental apartments. Only about 15 have sale contracts. There are also some building code issues with the center, Dashield said last night.

Some seniors who pleaded with the council last week to pass the tax abatement appeared to have taken a harder look at the issue.

"If you can't pay some taxes, don't come to Plainfield," senior Emily Washington said in public comment.

Referring to the proposed tax break for newcomers, Marion Trabelsi asked, "Why not pay attention to the people that are here?"

Under the 2007 agreement, the developer had two years from the date of being granted a building permit to complete the project. A ground-breaking ceremony was held in July 2007, but the developer then missed three stated completion dates. The two-year span is up in October and if it is not met, the developer will be in default of the agreement unless the governing body grants an extension.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was distressed about the seniors who took issue with the council regarding the tax abatement issue at the agenda setting session. They seemed to be blaming the council for being there late, and feeling as though they were disrespected.

What I didn't hear was any anger toward the mayor, who used the seniors as her puppets. The mayor obviously did not inform the council that the abatement issue was being talked about, bringing out the seniors for nothing, and using them for her gain.

I agree that the seniors were disrespected, but not by the council, but by the mayor. And if you vote for her again in November, you will continue to receive this same treatment, and be used as her puppets for her, and JG's, gain. I guarantee it.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to see how the scales have finally fallen from the eyes of some of Robinson-Briggs most ardent supporters. Yes, many have been misled and used. What is happening though, is that the seniors who own property here and whose children and grandchildren own property, are being asked to subsidize a developer on behalf of the mayor. Newcomers who may not even come (!!) are being offered something that the rest of the residents who have remained in Plainfield through thick and thin are not being offered.

The mayor has lied (yes, lied, if you read Glen Fishman's words) to them about the senior center being in danger of being lost.

Will the little band of seniors who spread the mayor's misinformation to the rest finally stop? Will the senior center director finally put a stop to this elder abuse? Will the city council be a voice FOR the people of Plainfield and demand that Burney stop allowing the mayor and Jerry Green to set the agenda?

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see Burney setting any agenda. He pulled the tax abatement first reading on Monday because the administration had not supplied sufficient information and time to review.

The council members, all of them in my opinion, listen to the public and vote on what is best for Plainfield. I know this is a new way of running Plainfield, doing the right thing, but I believe all the residents will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome of this vote. The administration - now that's another story.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dornoch had also approached Rahway with a request for an abatement for the project they have there, The Savoy, a couple of months ago. The city administrator there rejected any consideration of an abatement immediately. This is serious, Bernice. If the developer is going around begging for abatements, and also trying to show his overseas investors that his projects are not all a "house of cards," that tells me that his projects indeed are that, and that something will come crashing down soon. The question is, why aren't our mayor and city administrator trying to protect us from the predations of Fishman? Instead, they're the snake oil salesmen. What's funny also is that the mayor is so incredibly shameless and blithe about all of it. Her attitude is positively galling. Is she really that obtuse?

9:21 PM  

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