Jeff Mattingly has written some insightful commentary on the November 12th public meeting of the Belleville Planning Board.
This 13-minute meeting is rapidly becoming infamous for its brazen and total disregard for the public, improper procedure under the Open Public Meetings Act, a significant action being taken that is not on the agenda, a complete lack of any advance notice to citizens, and (with the exception of Arlene Schor’s objections) an utter lack of concern or even discussion for the gravity and morality of what is being proposed here.
The resolution at about 4:15 minutes into the video is ultimately to allow the Council to potentially seize the private property of citizens, with no conceivable justification, through the exercising of eminent domain. The property in question?
Why, it’s the undeveloped 24-acre Kidde/Finkelstein property, of course!
Funny how after shooting down the Second River Station project proposed for that location back in March — a move we applauded them for — now we discover it’s the Council who is salivating over that piece of land. That’s awfully convenient, isn’t it? Suddenly that landmark 7-0 vote looks decidedly less noble and civic-minded.
The Finkelstein property doesn’t belong to you gentlemen, no matter what ludicrous justifications you were kind enough to offer us on the public record this past Tuesday evening. Incidentally, that video will be available shortly.
Since this meeting deserves an article all by itself, I should have one available next week after I sort through some additional research over the weekend.
For now, here is Jeff’s letter:
At the November 12th Planning Board meeting, Councilman Kennedy makes an uncommon appearance to usher through the board “Eminent Domain” language to be included in the Council’s toolbag as a threat to the Kidde property land owners, after having wrongfully designated their 23.7 acre property as “an area in need of redevelopment”.
Watch from 4:15 – 10:15 (just 7 minutes) to get the flow and feel of the meeting. Note Mr. Kennedy’s single concern, as he doesn’t even stay for the rest of the meeting. Mayor Kimble was also in the back row as a spectator this evening. His presence is always notable to the board and by spectators when it occurs.
This meeting was sparsely attended, mainly due to the fact that the printed and released agenda did not include this item. Eminent Domain requires public notice, and that a public hearing be held first before taking action. No notice, not on the agenda, voted on that same night as their first action of business. ILLEGAL! Ushered through by Kennedy for maximum effect with the Mayor in attendance.
The taxes are fully paid on this property and have been all along. The owners over a great period of time have satisfied the stringent demands of the State of NJ DEP cleanup requirements, and have paid more than 5 million dollars to clean their property of contaminates that they did not create. Now they are finally able to develop it privately without tax abatements that would deprive the citizens of Belleville of sorely-needed revenue. What could the Council’s motive be in threatening the land owners with eminent domain?
There is no legal way that this property meets the requirements of “an area in need of redevelopment”, and certainly does not warrant the use of eminent domain in any way. In fact, the owners have done everything that state laws hope be done to clean privately-owned polluted properties, to return them to good health and avoid tax base loss.
A cynical person might see this heavy-handed measure by some on the Council as a threat of litigation – to force these owners to do what the Council wants with their private land that is now cleaned, or have their property held up in court, and consequently be unable to sell to anyone else while it’s tied up in litigation.
The owners pay almost 1/3 of a million dollars in taxes per year on the 23.7 acres. Councilman Kennedy argued last night that the property is dormant and under utilized, the Mayor and Interim Manager suggested that the owners undermine sales contracts by wanting more and more. The Finkelsteins have spent more than 5 million dollars of their own money to clean THEIR PROPERTY over multiple years, while paying the taxes.
Has the Belleville Town Council now come to feel ‘entitled’ to private property? Why are they getting involved at all, when their only purpose under redevelopment would be to grant tax abatements that will result in lost tax revenue to the town?
Three of the four ward councilpersons should not forget how it was that they came to the Council. Let me remind them – by opposing the use of eminent domain on this very property as a component of the plan strategy, but the central purpose in the first place.
Elected and appointed officials that would agree with this approach to governing must be replaced as time permits. May is now just 6 months away, and redevelopment efforts will be central to the 2016 four ward elections! It will not be forgotten in 2018, either.
Do the right thing, councilpersons. Scrap these misplaced residential redevelopment efforts, and spare yourselves the embarrassment and disappointment that is sure to come at the ballot boxes.
I’m sure that your future opponents will be thankful should you continue down this present path.