Monday, April 12, 2010
A resolution to add more than a quarter-million dollars to a $1 deal for a senior center was tabled Monday after both citizens and the governing body raised questions.
Developer Glen Fishman's company, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, received a large parcel of land on East Front Street for $1 in January 2007 in return for adding a senior center and veterans' center to a project dubbed "The Monarch," which was to have 63 two-bedroom condos on three upper floors. The senior center had a one-day temporary opening in May 2009 in advance of the June primary, where Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was seeking a second term. It opened for good in November 2009, just after the mayor won re-election. However, according to Monday's resolution, the city took occupancy before attaining ownership.
The resolution Monday was to convey ownership to the city for $1, but also included common condo fees dating back to November and costs for fitting out the senior center space with rooms for various activities.
Objections began with public comment on the resolution by Dr. Harold Yood, resident Jim Pivnichny, a 2009 mayoral candidate who just filed Monday for a City Council seat representing the Second & Third Wards, and community activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, all seeking more details. City Council President Annie McWilliams asked City Administrator Bibi Taylor to explain. Taylor said she understood that modifications were needed to make the space more "user-friendly."
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the plain "vanilla box" space led to a need for an "expansion of uses" and so a decision was made to " enhance the value of the asset."
But council members questioned who authorized the expenses.
"Who looked at the actual bill?" Councilman Cory Storch asked. "I would like some assurance that this was looked at carefully."
Storch called for tabling the resolution until the May meeting, which passed with only Councilman William Reid voting "no."
Before the resolution is brought back to the governing body, council members said they want many more details, included itemized bills and who approved and reviewed expenses.
"This is brand-new on my radar and everybody else's radar," McWilliams said.
She said she did not understand "why this is coming back before us," unexpected and unannounced. The item was added to the agenda on April 5 without explanation.
A further unresolved problem has to do with parking, Williamson said, adding the developer still needs to go to the Planning Board to resolve the issues.
As McWilliams expressed frustration at not knowing the facts and questioned whether the deal was related to the developer's pitch last year for a tax abatement, Williamson said, "It's hard to put your brain around the kind of plum the city got," and denied there was any quid pro quo related to the denied tax abatement.
The "plum" analogy set off reactions, including Mapp's remark that the plum the city expected was not what it got with the vanilla box.
"We thought it would be a juicy plum," he said.
The funding source for the renovations also came under fire, as it was described as a 2004 bond ordinance to build a senior center in the Tepper's basement, a notion that seniors had heartily rejected in favor of a brand-new center. Mapp said the funding could not be repurposed without amending the bond ordinance on two readings.
The next agenda-fixing session is May 3 and the regular meeting will take place on May 10.