Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater Who we are ICBE mission Membership application, join the ICBE Upcoming events
spacer What the New York Times and Bergen Record are saying Other news and commentary Contact us Home
Edgewater, NJ firehouse
spacer spacer news archive

Edgewater vote advances plan for new police station
DEP concerns jeopardize police station plan
Prosperity at a Price
2006 Letters to the Editor
New Town Hall Site Polluted
Can't We All Just Get Along? Not on Edgewater Council
Edgewater Faces Suit Over Sports Complex
Ferry Grant Looking Shakier
Not All Smooth Sailing Over Ferry Grant
Edgewater Coalition Now A Major Force
Edgewater Holds Off on Ferry Contract
Edgewater Looks into Relocating Borough Hall to Developer Site
Artful Proposal for Apartment Tower
2005 Letters to the Editor
A Shadowy Web of State Agencies and Developers
Officials Pleaded Guilty, but Town Was Changed Forever
Edgewater Ferry Stuck in Red-tape Sea
Edgewater Mulls Offer of Police Building
Borough to Rebid Ferry Deal
Time Running Out for NY Waterway
Ferry Failure Could Tarnish Allure of the Gold Coast
Mayor Proposes Panel on Contracts
Getting the Dirt on Town Politics
N.J. OKs Speedier Building Brocess
Edgewater of Two Minds on Marina, Ferry Project
Letter to the Editor
Englewood Democrats Blast Ferriero for Ballot Move
Edgewater Ferry Service Remains Up in Air
New Jersey: A Town Where the Neighbors Are in Everybody's Business
When Job, Council Collide
Pay to Play Helps Sink Appointment
County Says Developer is to Blame for Mudslide
Marina Owners, Boaters Blame Ferries for Damage
County Questions Edgewater Ferry Plan
Mayor Sells Stock To End Questions
Planner's Spouse Defends Work With Developer
Heroes and Zeros
Town Officials Have Stake In Local Developer's Bank
Drop-off Ferry Site Could Aid Edgewater
EPA Approves Road Over Superfund Site
$100,000 Donated by Banker to Campaigns Under Scrutiny


Edgewater vote advances plan for new police station

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

EDGEWATER -- The borough, amid much controversy, is moving toward purchasing 1.9 acres on the former Unilever property for a proposed new police station and borough hall.

The council voted 3-3 to introduce an ordinance on the plan Monday night, with the Democrats in favor and the independents against. Mayor Nancy Merse, a Democrat, broke the tie, voting in favor of the plan.

The borough would spend $3.7 million to buy the land and build a municipal complex and a parking lot. The two-story building is to be built by the owner of the former Unilever property, i.Park Edgewater, affiliated with National RE/Sources of Greenwich, Conn.

The property owner plans to turn the 24-acre property along the Hudson River into a mix of homes, offices and shops. The company specializes in redeveloping brownfields.

The council Democrats have called the project a wonderful opportunity to clean up the last major piece of available waterfront property in town.

In addition to the municipal complex and the cleanup, Merse said, the project would give the public access to the Hudson River in that location again.

"That's going to be wonderful for Edgewater," Merse said.

But the council's independents have urged caution, raising concerns about contamination on the property and questioning whether the location, at the southern end of town, was really the best place for the police station and borough hall.

They also have asked what the borough would be asked to give up in exchange for the municipal complex.

The i.Park firm offered the current parcel after another one, with a building that could have been retrofitted for the borough, was found to be contaminated from the nearby Quanta Resources Superfund site.

The company has pledged to excavate all of the contaminated soil underneath the proposed footprint of the new municipal complex, as recommended by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Independent council members also pointed out Monday that two i.Park principals, President Joe Cotter and Lynne Ward, contributed money to a political action committee that gave campaign contributions to Edgewater Democrats last year.

According to reports filed with the state, Cotter and Ward each gave $4,800 to the Public Awareness PAC, chaired by Paul Kaufman, who is one of the lawyers working on i.Park Edgewater's behalf, although he has not appeared before the council on the project.

The PAC gave $7,000 to the Edgewater Democratic Campaign Organization last November, though the two Democrats who ran last year lost.

"I just question why business people who do not live in Edgewater would want to influence the composition of the governing body by contributing to political campaigns," Councilwoman Valory Bardinas said Tuesday. "It's obviously to buy influence."

Cotter declined to comment on the contributions.

Kaufman, who also has donated money to Edgewater Democrats in the past, said he would not apologize for being a lifelong Democrat.

Asked about the purpose of the Public Awareness PAC, Kaufman said, "We support candidates and organizations, political organizations that have a similar political philosophy as ours."

Kaufman said all of the contributions were legal and that the i.Park project would generate at least $4 million to $5 million per year in taxes when complete.

"This project is about providing the borough with a police station as part of a redevelopment. What do the contributions have to do with it? Nothing," he said.

"This is not pay-to-play," Kaufman added. "If this was a quid pro quo, this certainly would have been done a whole lot quicker."


spacer back

DEP concerns jeopardize police station plan

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

EDGEWATER -- Police Chief Donald Martin may have to wait even longer for a new police station.

For years, Martin has been pleading with the Borough Council for a bigger and better space for his department of 30 officers plus civilians and special officers. The Police Department has been housed in the cramped basement of Borough Hall since about 1906.

Now, the state Department of Environmental Protection has rejected i.park Edgewater's plans to address contamination on the latest site offered by the company for a new police station and Borough Hall.

The company, an affiliate of National RE/sources of Greenwich, Conn., plans to redevelop the former Unilever property on the Hudson River into a mix of homes, offices and shops.

The developer offered to build the borough a police station and Borough Hall on the latest site under consideration, which is about 1.5 acres, for about $3.7 million, according to Borough Administrator Harvey Weber Jr., who estimated the land and building would cost about $9 million on the open market.

The proposal came after the borough declined an offer of another site from i.park Edgewater earlier this year. That site included a building that could have been retrofitted and expanded to accommodate the Police Department and Borough Hall, but officials declined the offer after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said part of the building sat atop a plume of contamination from the nearby Quanta Resources Superfund site.

In a letter to i.park Edgewater dated June 30, the DEP rejects Edgewater's conceptual plans to deal with contamination on the latest site and instead "strongly recommends" excavating the contaminated soils and refilling the area with clean soil. The DEP also points out that i.park Edgewater's plans do not address PCBs in soil or groundwater and states that a vapor barrier will be required, to prevent vaporized contaminants from entering the building.

Paul Kaufman, a lawyer for the developer, said his client will agree to excavate the soil as recommended. "That should satisfy the concerns," Kaufman said.

The Borough Council is set to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Monday.

Councilwoman Neda Rose said she is confident about the new site.

"It's going to work," Rose said. "We still have to figure out how."

Others are not so sure. This is at least the third site the borough has seriously considered for a new police station. Before the two Unilever locations, the borough spent over $300,000 to design a police station for a site across the street from the current Borough Hall, only to abandon the plans because they were too expensive.

Councilwoman Valory Bardinas believes locating the police station and Borough Hall anywhere on the Unilever site, where consumer products such as Wisk laundry detergent were created, would lead to lengthy delays because of environmental concerns.

"I think we should look for a different site," Bardinas said. "I think the perfect site is next to Borough Hall. Put the extension next to Borough Hall or do it across the street without the overpriced architect."

Councilwoman Beatrice Robbio believes the borough should at least have an alternative in case the newest proposal doesn't work out.

"My feeling is we cannot keep our police officers where they are now," Robbio said. "It is not only a disrespect to them, but also it could potentially be hazardous for our residents if the police don't have sufficient space and up-to-date communication systems."

Martin, the police chief, said any place would be better than the current police station.

"Right now we're in a dangerous situation and in a place where we can't function properly," Martin said. "I'm tired of the whole situation. I've been through so many plans for the police stations I could choke a horse with them."

spacer back

Prosperity at a Price

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

From their seventh-floor apartment at the Saint Moritz in Edgewater, Alex Mataras and his wife watch tugboats chug along the Hudson River and the New York skyline twinkle at dusk.

"The view is tremendous," said Mataras, a retired banker who is among the first tenants to fill the new 26-story high-rise, where a penthouse runs $10,000 a month.

In many ways the Saint Moritz, with its stunning views, rooftop pool and gilded lobby, offers the kind of dream living that has fueled the transformation of the waterfront from Fort Lee to Bayonne into a virtual "Gold Coast."

Edgewater's makeover has been among the most dramatic in northern New Jersey over the past two decades. Once a blue-collar backwater, the Bergen County borough has become a thriving luxury bedroom community.

Where the factories of Ford, Alcoa Aluminum and others once hummed, upscale housing, steakhouses and boutiques line the waterfront. The population, once mostly European immigrant families, is more diverse and has more than doubled. Today, one in five of the town's 10,700 residents is Asian.

On weekdays, almost one-third of the town commutes to Manhattan. On weekends, New Yorkers looking to escape city crowds cross the Hudson for a seat in a new multiplex cinema or to stroll the waterfront promenade. Where seedy bars once were the big attraction, now there's Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Target and Starbucks.

But some say Edgewater's dream came at a price.

A growing number of officials and residents ask how much more new building the town can take before it buckles under its own success. All the construction has put a burden on infrastructure, schools and services, they say.

"The town is overdeveloped," said one of the newest Edgewater council members, Beatrice Robbio. "We have deviated so far from our original vision, it has been a detriment to the community on every level, whether it be traffic, crowding in schools, noncompliance with affordable-housing laws or open space."

Political tensions over development are running high at a time when the borough is dealing with major projects, including a ferry service scheduled to open later this year, a proposed municipal hall relocation and a plan to turn the polluted former Unilever property on River Road into a waterfront village with 420 housing units, open air dining restaurants, shops and offices.

At the same time, the borough continues to tackle the toxic legacy of industries that poisoned much of the waterfront decades ago. The town's most polluted property, under Superfund status, is oozing with arsenic, heavy metals and tar in the shadow of new luxury homes, boutiques, a hotel and a day care center.

Pollution aside, borough officials are concerned about what they see as a lack of planning for the landscape.

Robbio and council members Valory Bardinas and Denis Gallagher are part of the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater (ICBE), a community group that is critical of former and current Democratic leaders on development and pay-to-play issues. The trio accuse the Democrats of allowing high-density housing to run roughshod over a vision for a walkable riverfront community.

The Democrats contend Edgewater is far better off than its gritty days two decades ago, when the town was in the red.

"Only 70 percent of the taxes were being collected back then," Mayor Nancy Merse said. "We advertised in the New York Times. We couldn't give the waterfront away."

With its northern border less than a mile south of the George Washington Bridge, the 3 1/2-mile-long borough has put up an estimated 3,500 new housing units since 1990, mostly along River Road.

"The market has been unbelievable," said Fred Daibes, a developer who started out as a local dishwasher and became a main player in the borough's real estate boom. "We're no longer Fort Lee's ugly stepsister."

In addition to completing the 225-unit Saint Moritz and at least a dozen other projects in town, Daibes plans to build two nine-story towers with 209 housing units on the site of the former Octagon Process Inc. plant, and a 156-unit hotel and office building, both on River Road.

In the southern part of town, crews are erecting a 15-story tower with 168 units. The developer, Tarragon Corp., is advertising a design inspired by the Chinese art of feng shui.

The borough is also considering a $3.7 million relocation of the municipal offices from its aging 100-year-old town hall to a parcel on the former Unilever property on River Road. The offer comes from National RE/sources of Greenwich, Conn., which is seeking approvals to redevelop the property.

The relocation effort has been delayed, however, by the discovery of pollutants spreading from a 15-acre Superfund site, once home to a waste oil processing terminal, Quanta Resources Corp. The site is laced with lead, chromium and an underground coal tar creosote plume.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is studying the site for cleanup and monitoring the air, soils and water of the area.

"The property is being hemmed in on all sides," Gallagher said. "It's going to be more expensive and take longer to clean because of all this development around it."

Somewhere between Edgewater's sullied past and golden future are residents like Pat Nardo, who moved from California to the borough five years ago after seeing a condominium for sale in the Promenade complex on a pier in the Hudson River.

"It's like small-town living in a big city," said Nardo, a retired television writer-producer who enjoys walking along the waterfront promenade and shopping at the nearby Whole Foods.

"I just love my apartment, I love this town," Nardo said. "But there's so much that was not here five years ago. Up and down this river, no matter what empty spot, something's going up. The traffic is a real problem. I call it 'Newfornia.' There's one road in, and out."

After moving in, Nardo, 65, learned she is living near the Superfund site. Also, she was "stunned" by how fast developers built a multiplex cinema and the CityPlace project on polluted land near her home. Parts of the CityPlace village of boutiques, restaurants and luxury rentals were built on a parking deck, over an 18-inch "cap" of gravel and concrete.

Alarmed, Nardo got involved in the ICBE group. She is convinced her dog, Rosie, died of cancer from walking on polluted dirt.

"None of these issues crossed my mind when I moved in," Nardo said. "I saw the view and that was it."

Development issues are a constant flash point for the borough council, with the mayor and fellow Democrats Neda Rose, Maureen Holtje and David Jordan often at odds with the independents.

The independents accuse the Democrats of being influenced by campaign contributions from major developers, an attack vigorously denied by the Democrats.

"What we're getting is what the developers want to do, not what we want to do," said Gallagher, a retired airline pilot who has lived in Edgewater for more than 25 years.

Gallagher and his allies claim that development contradicts the master plan: high-density housing has sprung up on sites slated for office and research use; gated mid-rises block skyline views along the Hudson River; narrow sidewalks create a hazard for pedestrians, where the master plan once called for wide, tree-lined medians.

The town no longer feels like a close-knit community, Gallagher argues.

"This development was something that was going to happen one way or another, but it's coming at way too high a price."

Enrollment at the town's only school, Eleanor Van Gelder Elementary, jumped from 232 students in 1991 to 415 this year. And even with a $7.9 million school renovation, officials are planning the next expansion.

"Projections show in the next five years we'll get 600 students," Superintendent Ted Blumstein said. "We only have capacity for 550."

Council President David Jordan says the borough is trying to accommodate growth. There are plans to refurbish Veteran's Field, and to install a new PSE&G gas main.

A new ferry service to midtown Manhattan, which is expected to begin later this year out of the renovated Grand Cove Marina, is designed to reduce the number of cars on River Road at rush hour by up to 1,600 vehicles, Jordan said.

"We're trying to play catch-up and it's tough," Jordan said. "We could have planned better."

The town is also behind on affordable-housing obligations. The Council on Affordable Housing recently noted in a letter to the borough that its housing plan set aside 10 percent of units for affordable housing on properties where it has authorized 1,284 new units since 1998, yet no affordable units were built.

"There's not one single affordable unit on the river," Bardinas said, noting all affordable units are on the west side of River Road.

Councilwoman Neda Rose argues the town needs to take advantage of market forces and should welcome developers who wish to transform polluted sites.

"This town is far cleaner than it has been in 100 years," Rose said. "Where were the independents in the '60s, '70s and '80s? ... There was no way to get to the river then, you had to crawl through weeds.

"Now I can walk quite a distance on the river walkway," Rose said, "and I can even stop and have a cappuccino."

spacer back

2006 Letters to Editors

Your views

Magnificent, impenetrable, and still beneath the summer sun ... we revel in Edgewater as if she were our own unique sandcastle, and rely faithfully on local officials to monitor the tide. But what is happening beneath this radiant fortress is unthinkable: Edgewater's own majority-Democratic Borough Council is proactively dredging canals and inviting surges of unnecessary development, which eat away at our very foundation.

For instance, school property where children play safely is being rented out by a restaurant for extra parking. Some of the most valuable historical landmarks in the country are being washed away by developers of mirror-image McMansions. Even Town Hall is showing signs of losing its footing, only to be rebuilt atop a section of land scrutinized by the EPA for unsafe toxins.

As with sandcastles, these waves have created fissures in Edgewater's once sufficient infrastructure, burying residents in debt that currently exceeds $27 million. And as you might imagine, some residents will turn inward as this dreadful erosion takes place. But you can face the tide with the more critical-minded, by speaking your mind at council meetings on the first and third Monday of every month at Borough Hall. Whatever you do, please get involved before Edgewater as you know it is washed away.

William T. Brendel
Edgewater, July 7

Your views

At the last Edgewater Council meeting, my Democratic colleagues loudly criticized a position I took -- calling it grandstanding and not doing my job.

My job, and that of the other two Independent council members, is making sure Edgewater government is open and accessible to citizens and that it provides answers and solutions. It does not.

I had asked the borough administrator if the municipality had a system to track citizen questions and complaints to ensure a timely response. No answer. Again I simply asked, "Do we have a system?" Still no answer.

My Democratic colleagues began to complain that we should move to other business. That's right: They had business other than making sure our residents are listened to and their questions answered.

After years of interacting with Edgewater government, I'm more convinced than ever that the Democratic majority running Borough Hall is broken. It doesn't serve our citizens, and, even worse, it doesn't seem interested in solving problems, answering complaints or honestly listening to the people they are supposed to serve.

Beatrice M. Robbio
Edgewater, June 4

spacer back

New Town Hall Site Polluted

Edgewater Independents Criticize Push for Project

Friday, March 24, 2006

EDGEWATER -- Mayor Nancy Merse mailed a lengthy letter to borough residents a few weeks ago describing the potential benefits of a proposal to turn a building on the former Unilever property into a new police station and borough hall.

For no more than $3.7 million, she wrote, the borough would receive a completely renovated building worth more than $9 million, courtesy of National RE/sources, the Greenwich, Conn., company that wants to redevelop the remainder of the Hudson riverfront property into a mix of homes, offices and shops.

The mayor left out one detail, however.

The building sits almost entirely within the plume of contamination including coal tar creosote, arsenic and benzene, running from the nearby Quanta Resources Superfund site, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The boundaries of a Superfund site extend as far as the contamination does, which means that in buying the building, the borough essentially would be taking on a portion of a Superfund site.

Merse, a Democrat, said the borough is aware of the potential contamination and has hired the engineering firm Schoor DePalma to conduct a preliminary environmental assessment to determine the exact nature and extent of the contamination.

"We're doing a feasibility study and due diligence to see what is there and what is not there. We have no information yet," Merse said.

She acknowledged having seen some maps of the contamination previously prepared for Honeywell, the party that is being held primarily responsible for the cleanup of the Quanta site, but said the borough wanted to do its own investigation.

The three independent members of the council, who say they only learned definitively of the contamination recently, contend the borough is moving ahead with the project far too quickly. Already, the borough has discussed declaring the former Unilever property an area in need of redevelopment and buying furniture for the proposed borough hall and police station, they said.

"I think the borough needs to put an immediate stop to spending money on architectural plans and paint chips and purchasing furniture until we know what is beneath that building," said Councilwoman Beatrice Robbio, an independent, who called the mayor's letter "duplicitous," given her apparent knowledge of the contamination.

"If we were to take over this land knowingly, then we're stuck with the bag for cleaning it up," Robbio said. "We will be vulnerable."

The independents also worry that the project could echo the borough's last failed attempt to build a new police station, across from Borough Hall, which is nearly 100 years old and regarded as in dire need of substantial renovations. In that case, they say, the borough spent more than $300,000 to design the building, only to abandon the idea because officials realized it would come in well over budget and cost a fortune to heat, since it was designed with electric heating. To this point, the borough has spent $45,000 in architects' fees and $4,500 for Schoor DePalma's environmental study on the newest proposal.

Councilwoman Valory Bardinas, also an independent, said she is concerned that the contamination could, at the very least, delay the opening of the new police station for too long.

"The whole issue of this began with the need for a police station," Bardinas said. "Everybody agrees that's really a need. If we go ahead with this property and there needs to be remediation, we could be looking down into years before this happens."

For the same reason, fellow independent Councilman Denis Gallagher wants the borough to at least begin considering alternative locations for the police station.

But Councilwoman Maureen Holtje, a Democrat, pointed out that a building that sits between the Quanta site and the Unilever property is home to offices and even a day-care center. She said testing has been done there to ensure the safety of the children and workers in the building, which leads her to believe the contamination on the Unilever property is not likely to be serious.

"I would think the issue is, is it contaminated and how much?" Holtje said.

At this point, no one knows how much remediation would be required at the proposed police station and borough hall building.

Richard Ho, the project manager for the Quanta Resources site, said the EPA would need to approve any work on the building, given the contamination, which includes arsenic and benzene in the groundwater. The former Unilever property also contains contamination from Unilever's operations there, said Ho, who does not know what kind of contamination or how much.

One possible solution would be for the borough to obtain a special agreement that protects a prospective buyer from taking over responsibility for the cleanup, although the buyer would still be liable if it contributes to spreading the contamination further.

Still, Ho said, most people tend to steer clear of Superfund sites.

"Generally, people in this kind of situation would not take the land or take control of the property until it's been cleaned up," Ho said.

Ho has requested a meeting with Edgewater officials to discuss their plans.

"We want to help them out. In order for us to help them, we need to know what information on contamination there is and what are their plans," he said.


spacer back


Can't We All Just Get Along? Not on Edgewater Council

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

EDGEWATER -- The gloves are decidedly off in the already rough-and-tumble world of Edgewater politics.

Last fall, two Democratic council members lost their seats to independents, bringing the count to three Democrats and three independents on the council.

The tension between the two groups has since ratcheted higher.

Online message boards and newspaper letters to the editor bristle with pointed accusations and cutting remarks, often from the council members themselves. Independent Beatrice Robbio, who was sworn in to the council in January, said her mailbox has been glued shut twice and the air let out of one of her car tires since her November victory.

At a council meeting Monday night, independent Councilwoman Valory Bardinas urged Mayor Nancy Merse, as the head of the Democratic Party in the borough, to call upon "certain members to cease and desist in their constant threats of violence and personal attacks upon independent council members."

Bardinas cited several examples. She said that on Election Day last year, Democratic Councilman Dave Jordan advised now-Councilman Denis Gallagher, an independent, "that he didn't know who he was [messing] with." Bardinas, an independent, said that during a council meeting last month, Democratic Councilwoman Neda Rose threatened to punch her in the face.

And during a groundbreaking ceremony for the ferry at Grand Cove Marina on Jan. 20, John Schwartz, husband of former Democratic Councilwoman Lois Fein, hurled insults and obscenities at Robbio, to the point that Robbio feared for her safety, Bardinas claimed. Schwartz denies that the incident happened.

"When we sit up here as a governing body, we all have the hair on the back of our necks standing up instead of working together," Bardinas said. "If we want to sit here and verbally do battle, that's one thing, but the threats have to stop."

Merse said: "I agree, but I also believe as elected officials we have to show respect to each other."

Bardinas told the council that her family's cars have been repeatedly "keyed" over the years that she has been on the council, frequently after contentious meetings. She also said in an interview that the lock on the hair salon she previously owned was glued shut about 10 times. She said the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office had installed cameras in her car and her home to try to catch the culprits, but the cameras failed after news of their installation spread.

Democratic Councilwoman Maureen Holtje responded to Bardinas' allegations by saying that after the election, her car was bombarded with eggs and was keyed. And the day after the election, she said, the Democratic headquarters in town also was "egged."

Holtje said Tuesday that she hoped the council would be able to work together more productively.

"I just hope that as we go forward we can all work together and work for the benefit of the town and not argue over nonsense," Holtje said. "I think what happened got out of hand. I hope we can sit down and straighten the matter [out]."

Rose acknowledged she had made an inappropriate remark to Bardinas at a council meeting. She said she was sorry she had done so, and that she had lost her temper. She also said she had been struck on the shoulder by a member of the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater, a grass-roots group to which Bardinas, Gallagher and Robbio have belonged over the years. She said she had her car keyed, but that she never raised the issue because she felt it was a waste of time.

Robbio, who brought the incident with Schwartz to the attention of police but did not file a formal complaint, described the incidents as a "pattern of intimidation and threats."

Robbio acknowledged that she had no proof that it was persons sympathetic to Democrats who glued her mailbox or let the air out of her tire, but said the timing of the events made her suspicious, occurring days after she was elected and again just after she was sworn in.

Contacted by telephone, Schwartz vehemently denied Robbio's description of events at the ferry groundbreaking.

"Oh, gimme a break," he said. "That's an outrage. That's a lie."

Schwartz said he was "mad" because Robbio appeared to be taking credit in a television interview for bringing the ferry to Edgewater. Schwartz said he told the interviewer that what Robbio was saying was not true and that the interviewer should speak to his wife and Rose to get their perspectives.

spacer back


Edgewater Faces Suit Over Sports Complex

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A Fort Lee resident who hopes to build tennis, boccie and volleyball courts atop a Superfund site in Edgewater has sued the borough, seeking to overturn the zoning board's denial of the plan.

Mitchell Meyer, an avid tennis player, sought a use variance to build a sports complex on the Quanta Resources Superfund site on River Road. The land is zoned for offices and research but has been regarded as an eyesore for decades.

The complaint was filed in Superior Court in Hackensack on Dec. 19, and is scheduled for a case management hearing today before Judge Jonathan N. Harris.

Neither Meyer nor his lawyer, Joseph Mariniello Sr., could be reached for comment, but Mariniello previously said his client intended the project as an interim use, to be constructed before the full Superfund cleanup was completed.

Edgewater's zoning board voted twice on the application. In September, the board voted 4-2 in favor of the variance, with one abstention, but the measure failed because such variances require five affirmative votes to pass.

Meyer appealed the decision and was granted a second vote, in October. A zoning board member who previously abstained voted in favor, but another board member changed his vote to "no," so the measure failed again.

Mariniello, who previously served as the zoning board attorney for Edgewater, argues in the complaint that the first vote "should have been considered a sufficient affirmative vote and approval of plaintiff's application."

Meyer is also seeking to recover lawyer's fees and the costs of the suit.

Mariniello argues in the complaint that the second vote should not count because the board "considered evidence outside the scope of the record before it, issues that were non-zoning issues."

Neither Dennis Oury, the zoning board's designated lawyer, nor Scott Sproviero, the lawyer who typically stands in for Oury at the meetings, returned calls for comment.

Robert Regan, Edgewater's municipal attorney, and Barbara Rae, the borough clerk, said they were not aware of the lawsuit and that they had not been served.

The Quanta Resources site, at 163 River Road, was previously home to a tar-processing plant and an oil-recycling facility. Among the contaminants that have been found at the site are polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, arsenic, chromium, lead, coal tar and creosote.

Mitchell has contended that most of the dangerous substances were removed in previous cleanups, and that his proposed sports facility would not present any health hazards. The EPA is still working on the cleanup of the site.

spacer back


Ferry Grant Looking Shakier

Friday, February 3, 2006

EDGEWATER -- Even as the backhoes rumbled this week onto Grand Cove Marina, site of the town's future ferry landing, some critics questioned $2 million in public funding for the project.

Several speakers at a Bergen County freeholders meeting Wednesday night urged the board to reconsider a grant from the county's Open Space Trust Fund for the ferry and marina project. They said that when the grant was approved, the project did not include a ferry.

The plans for Grand Cove Marina, at River Road and Route 5, have changed so much, the critics argued, that at the very least, the county should formally reconsider the issue and vote again.

Betsy Kohn, chairwoman of the Sierra Club North Jersey Group, said that while the Sierra Club supports ferry service and other forms of mass transportation, the group objects to "using $2 million from the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund for a transportation terminal."

Kohn said what had begun as a park and marina for the public has been reduced to little more than a ferry terminal with parking spaces, waiting areas for buses and landscaping.

"We are very concerned about this improper use of open space trust fund money for a transportation project," Kohn said. "It sets a terrible precedent. It opens the door to future diversion of open space money for other non-open-space-preservation purposes. And it violates the public trust."

Freeholder Valerie Huttle responded that the goal of the grant was to preserve open space, and that the proposed ferry terminal did not affect that goal.

"That area in Edgewater was in threat of development for condos and restaurants," Huttle said. "Whether a ferry is there or not, that piece of land is preserved in my view."

Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney was not present at the meeting, but Brian Hague, McNerney's spokesman, said Thursday that he agreed with Huttle.

"We can tell you what's not going there," Hague said. "We're not going to have some 15-story condominium complex rising, creating more congestion, importing more people into Edgewater. We think the allocation is fine. Edgewater is preserving that open space. The public is going to get a marina. It looks like a win from our perspective."

McNerney participated in a ceremonial check presentation with Edgewater officials last month, but the money has not been turned over yet. Robert Abbatomarco, executive director of the open space fund, said the money will be released after Edgewater submits paperwork.

Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, who also serves on the county's Open Space Trust Fund committee, agreed with the stance of the Sierra Club and a couple of Edgewater residents who also spoke at the meeting.

"Two million dollars that could have gone to another project somewhere else is tied up because Edgewater is trying to use it to build a transportation amenity," Sheehan said. "If that $2 million is allowed to be used for a transportation amenity, there are 69 other towns in Bergen County that would like to improve their transportation amenities."

Freeholder Lisa Randall, the lone Republican on the board, following the suggestion of Edgewater resident Donald Kopczynski, asked to see a copy of any agreement signed by the county and the borough. Kopczynski said he believed no agreement had ever been signed by both parties.

Former Councilwoman Lois Fein, one of the ferry's strongest supporters, acknowledged that the scope of the project had changed, but said the changes had nothing to do with the ferry landing. A planned playground, for example, was eliminated but only because the council decided the borough already had enough playgrounds, including one a couple of blocks away, she said.

The total cost of the marina and ferry project is estimated at between $14 million and $17 million. The Port Authority has promised to reimburse $8 million to Edgewater. The borough also hopes to receive about $2 million from the state's Green Acres program.

spacer back


Not All Smooth Sailing Over Ferry Grant

Friday, January 20, 2006

EDGEWATER - The borough should receive a $2 million grant from the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund for the ferry and marina project after all, but some council members were jarred by the way the welcome news emerged.

The county's Open Space Trust Fund Public Advisory Committee has decided to go along with a recommendation by County Counsel Esther Suarez, who said Edgewater should get the $2 million as planned. The county freeholders, who would have final say over the grant, don't have any plans to reconsider the issue, Chairwoman Bernadette McPherson said this week.

There had been some question about the grant, since borough officials added the ferry to the project only after the grant was approved, after saying there would be no ferry there. Several Democratic council members from Edgewater attended the advisory committee's Jan. 9 meeting, ready to argue Edgewater should still receive the grant money.

To mark the decision, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney presented a ceremonial check to Mayor Nancy Merse and a number of Democratic council people last Friday at Grand Cove Marina, the site of the ferry project.

"This is good news for the taxpayers of Edgewater, and it's going to give us a beautiful park and a usable public marina," Councilwoman Neda Rose said.

The three independents on the Borough Council had a slightly different take.

While happy about the grant coming through, the independents were upset that they weren't told about either the Open Space Trust Fund committee meeting or about the photo opportunity with the county executive.

"I'm just so furious about how they have chosen to exclude us," Councilwoman Valory Bardinas said.

"If this is a portent of things to come - if this is the way we're going to be treated, there's going to be problems, obviously," echoed Councilman Denis Gallagher.

Councilwoman Beatrice Robbio said she was outraged at the way the issue had been handled. She and Gallagher joined Bardinas on the council this month.

"Here's the thing," she said. "It was the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater that led the fight to save the marina," she said, referring to a candlelight vigil in 1999 led by the group.

"I'm thrilled after all this time we're getting this money, but you can imagine how my happiness is dampened somewhat by the local Democrats purposely keeping us out of the loop," Robbio added.

Borough Administrator Harvey Weber and Merse said the county committee meeting was open to the public and that the photo op with the county executive was thrown together at the last minute. Weber said the only people who knew about it were those who had attended a check-presenting event in Edgewater for an affordable housing project the day before.

"It wasn't planned," Weber said. "Yes, it would have been nice to get good publicity, but it was spur of the moment."

Robert Abbatomarco, executive director of the county's Open Space Trust Fund, said the money should be released to Edgewater after the borough submits all of the required documentation, most likely within the next two to three months.

Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, who also serves on the Open Space Trust Fund Committee, was disappointed the county will be awarding the money despite the change of plans.

"They came to the committee seeking money or an open space and recreation project and turned it into a transportation infrastructure project," Sheehan said. "I felt and I feel that that's a violation of the public trust."

The borough is still waiting to hear from the state's Green Acres program whether it will receive another $2 million promised toward the marina project.

The borough is scheduled to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the project at Grand Cove Marina at 9 a.m. today.


spacer back

From The Bergen Record, November 10, 2005



EDGEWATER - A watchdog group that started as a kaffeeklatsch less than a decade ago won its biggest victory in Tuesday's election, tripling its numbers on the Borough Council and establishing itself once and for all as a heavyweight in town politics.

The wins mark a watershed moment for the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater, an eclectic group that includes Democrats, Republicans and independents, newcomers and residents whose families have lived in town for generations.

The Independent Coalition has been a prominent voice of opposition in Edgewater over the years, fighting for more openness and accountability in government, criticizing what it characterizes as the borough's overdevelopment and attacking "pay-to-play," the practice of awarding lucrative government contracts to campaign contributors.

Most of the coalition's members have worked as government outsiders over the years, with little real power inside Edgewater's Democrat-controlled political establishment.

Valory Bardinas, a former hair salon owner, was the first coalition-backed candidate elected to the council, winning her seat in the fall of 1999. The group had had as many as two members on the council at once, although after the election last fall, only Bardinas remained.

When Denis Gallagher, a retired airline pilot, and Beatrice Robbio, a director of marketing and communications for a non-profit organization, join Bardinas on the council in January, however, it will represent the first time Democrats have lost the majority on the council in at least 16 years. The three will be balanced by Democrats Neda Rose, Dave Jordan and Maureen Holtje. Mayor Nancy Merse, who would vote in case of a tie, is also a Democrat.

"I hope there will be a little balance of power here and that they'll understand that a larger majority of voters who voted yesterday in Edgewater shared our views," Bardinas said Wednesday. "It was no easy task for [voters] to jump over to the third line. The fact that they did it showed they share our views and that they agree with us on how Edgewater should be going toward the future."

"The Independent Coalition is a grass-roots organization," Robbio said. "We went back to those roots and communicated directly with those people as residents."

The Independent Coalition also benefited when the two Republicans in the race dropped out, citing personal reasons.

Gallagher, Robbio and Bardinas said their first priority will be to ensure the people appointed to the zoning and planning boards will uphold the borough's master plan for development.

"I think that in the course of this election, talking to people, it became evident that there's a great deal of concern about overdevelopment and its effect on our quality of life," Gallagher said.

Coalition members have often said that the Democrats have allowed developers too much leeway.

But Lois Fein, who lost Tuesday along with Jim Moriarty, said she didn't see another option.

"Should we leave the factories, the old railroad tracks?" she asked.

The Independent Coalition overcame a significant financial deficit against the Democrats.

All candidates backed by the coalition must pledge not to accept campaign contributions from developers or professionals who do business with the borough.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the state as of Election Day, Robbio and Gallagher raised $18,793 for their campaign, most of which came in donations of under $300.

The Democrats raised $67,463, including $38,263 transferred from a prior campaign. Among the biggest contributors to the Democrats were several companies that do business with the borough.

Fein said Wednesday that she didn't think the charges of pay-to-play were fair, arguing that she and her fellow Democrats abide by campaign finance rules.

The three independents said Wednesday that they hoped to work together with the Democrats for the benefit of the entire town.

"We are incredibly happy [to have] this incredible responsibility that Edgewater residents have bestowed upon us," Robbio said.


spacer back


Edgewater Holds Off on Ferry Contract

Friday, September 16, 2005

EDGEWATER - More than six months after NY Waterway submitted the only bid to operate a proposed ferry from Edgewater to midtown Manhattan, the borough has yet to award a contract.

A council member said borough professionals are still gathering information from the company in an effort to ensure that it is financially sound.

Another member, Valory Bardinas, the lone independent on the Democrat-controlled council, said she is frustrated because borough professionals and fellow council members have denied her information.

For example, Bardinas said she has requested the names of the people in a group said to be evaluating NY Waterway's finances, to no avail. She said she first requested the names about two months ago.

Bardinas has also requested the most recent audit for NY Waterway, which she also has not received, she said.

"I'm so aggravated that I have to do this to make them be honest," she said.

In May, Borough Administrator Harvey Weber told The Record that a team was "evaluating the finances of NY Waterway." At the time, he declined to identify the members, saying the process was considered confidential. Weber did not return calls for comment Wednesday or Thursday.

But Councilman David Jordan said in an interview Thursday that an evaluation committee once created for that purpose had long been inactive. He said a steering committee for the ferry, created more recently by Mayor Nancy Merse, has requested financial information from NY Waterway.

Jordan said borough professionals were in the process of reviewing the information NY Waterway submitted in response. Merse could not be reached for comment.

Edward J. Boccher, who represents the borough on redevelopment issues, said, "They have to decide how they're going to review the ferry proposal and then move forward. If they decide to have an evaluation committee, the membership is not to be disclosed to the public under state law."

He declined to elaborate, saying, "The council's going to discuss and address all this on Monday," at a regularly scheduled mayor and council meeting.

NY Waterway was in dire financial straits last year before a New York attorney relieved the company of $19.1 million in debt and took over a number of ferry boats and routes. NY Waterway has said it is in better shape now and is confident it can operate the Edgewater route successfully.

Council members declined to say what the borough would do if it eventually decides not to award the route to NY Waterway.

"Why don't we wait until that point?" Council President Lois Fein said. She added that she wanted to "wait until we get all the information about their financials. Then we can make an educated decision."

This was Edgewater's second round of bids for a ferry operator. The borough chose NY Waterway after the first round last year, but later withdrew the offer, citing concerns about the company's financial situation. The only other bidder in that round was disqualified.

Fein said the project is moving along nicely, with or without a ferry operator.

The borough has received permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and is awaiting permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, she said. After the borough receives the go-ahead from the corps, it can issue a request for proposals for the construction of the ferry landing, which could take place through the winter, if weather permits.

"I can assure you we're all smart people and we're working real hard in an effort to make sure there will be ferry service," Fein said.


spacer back


Edgewater Looks into Relocating Borough Hall to Developer Site

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

EDGEWATER - The Borough Council is interested in moving all of Borough Hall to the Unilever site, not just the police station and Municipal Court.

The council voted, 3-1, on Tuesday night to give architect Anthony Iovino an additional $7,500 to look into the idea, with Councilwomen Lois Fein, Neda Rose and Maureen Holtje voting in favor and Councilwoman Valory Bardinas opposing the resolution.

The council has already authorized paying Iovino $30,000 to determine the feasibility of relocating the police station and Municipal Court to a building on the 24-acre Unilever site, on the Hudson River.

The borough would then use the current Borough Hall for other purposes, Iovino said.

National RE/sources of Greenwich, Conn., is seeking to build homes, restaurants, offices and stores on the Unilever site. To sweeten the deal, the company offered the possibility of converting a building there into a police station if the borough would pay the cost of conversion.

The cost of converting the building would be considerably less than the cost of building a new police station from scratch.

Joe Cotter, the president of National RE/sources, has estimated it would cost $1.5 million to $1.7 million to retrofit the building for a police station.

The last round of construction bids to build a police station from scratch, in February, ranged from $5.1 million to $5.7 million. Borough officials had hoped to keep construction costs under $4 million and the entire project under $5 million.

The Police Department occupies cramped and outdated quarters in the basement of Borough Hall.

National RE/sources specializes in redeveloping industrial and corporate properties.


spacer back


Artful Proposal for Apartment Tower

Friday, July 29, 2005

EDGEWATER - The quirky little neighborhood of Shadyside, long known for its artists, bohemians and other free spirits, could soon be home to an eight-story apartment complex and a gallery featuring the works of pop artist Peter Max.

Expert testimony before the zoning board concluded Wednesday, and the panel is tentatively scheduled to vote on the project in August.

The applicant, a group called One Development of Edgewater, opted to postpone a vote Wednesday because only five of the seven zoning board members were present. By law, an applicant can postpone a decision until at least seven zoning board members or alternates are present.

One Development is proposing an eight-story residential building with 34 units, most likely condominiums, along with a gallery and other retail uses, according to Conrad Roncati, the architect and one of the principals in the project.

Roncati said he was in discussions with Peter Max, whom he characterized as an acquaintance. In addition to the gallery, Max is considering working with One Development to design the interiors of the condominiums, Roncati said.

The endeavor would be a new one for the artist, best known for his brilliantly colored, 1960s pop paintings and his multihued renderings of the Statue of Liberty.

"We're all very excited about the possibility," Roncati said.

He said Max was in Italy and unavailable for comment.

The gallery would be at 280 Old River Road, in the heart of Shadyside, and the residential building would be about 200 feet west of Old River Road. One Development would rehabilitate the existing building at 280 Old River Road to accommodate the gallery, a retail store and perhaps a cafe. One Development also would widen and expand Thompson Lane and add sidewalks.

Some say the building would overpower the rest of Shadyside, which consists mainly of three- and four-story buildings, including restaurants, boutiques and an art gallery. The maximum height allowed by borough zoning for the area is 45 feet, or about five stories, which means the project would require a height variance.

Roncati emphasized that the project had been downsized from 40 residential units and that he planned it to fit into the neighborhood.

Antonia Vene, owner of Noni's Bistro, adjacent to 280 Old River Road, said she supports the project and expects it would improve business.

"The plans that I saw are really beautifully done," she said.

Many of Shadyside's businesses have struggled since the new River Road was laid down about a decade ago, cutting off Shadyside from the main strip through town.

Vene was concerned, however, about the potential for flooding in the area. While that problem seems to have been resolved, some worry that more development could unleash floodwaters. Vene wants the developers to post a bond to be used if residents and business owners are affected again by flooding.

"If we have a big storm and they start digging away, [the rain] is going to go somewhere and we're going to get hit," she said. "I want to see the development go on, but I want to be protected."

spacer back

2005 Letters to Editors

Your Views 6/30/05

"Edgewater pushes for ferry service" (Page L-1, June 22) neglected to describe discussions that preceded the vote and to provide enough background.

One of those discussions involved "best efforts." This is a new and undefined concept that contradicts previous assurances from the Port Authority. One of the council members questioned why it wasn't defined, and the meeting then devolved into the non-trivial semantic differences between "term of art" and "term of law."

It would have been helpful if this gotcha term had been brought to light earlier. But since nearly all meaningful deliberation on the ferry had been done in closed sessions, this wasn't possible. Indeed, it required a motion to allow the public to speak before the vote was taken.

The result is the taxpayers are now potentially on the hook for $8 million.

Although the council has been rushing ahead with the project, buying buses for instance, there is still no ferry operator. NY Waterway was the only company that submitted a bid, and the borough has presumably just thrown away any leverage it had negotiating with it.

There has been speculation that other companies shied away because they don't consider the ferry viable - the marina part of the project is said to have poor prospects. But without numbers from the borough this remains speculation.

The other important contract provision allows Edgewater to manage construction. I am uncomfortable with this.

Not only do these projects tend to take longer and cost more than anticipated, there have been disconcerting instances where council members were unaware of important facets of a project's design, i.e., using electric heat to cut construction costs at the expense of higher operating costs. As a taxpayer, I would have preferred the Port Authority's deliberate and experienced project management to the Edgewater Council's stewardship.

Michael Trachtenberg

Letters to the Editor 3/29/05

Regarding "Edgewater mulls offer of police building" (Page L-1, March 27):

Why is it that Edgewater - the new "gold coast" - is once again forced to be the beggar of Bergen County by kowtowing to some developer to give taxpayers what we already deserve: a real police station?

Councilwoman Maureen Holtje states: "I think it's great for the taxpayers." Really? I would ask Holtje and other officials why do we have to keep "protecting" the taxpayers by abdicating our responsibility to plan our community according to our newly minted and approved master plan, which clearly states that the Unilever site is to remain zoned for office and research?

How is it that, after all this development and diminution of our quality of life, we cannot afford our own police station? Why not provide the taxpayers and police force what we deserve - and have been promised - without having to negotiate from a permanently disadvantaged position?

Time and again Edgewater government has given in to developers who say they'll take away a problem if they can build a high-rise, if they can put 300 units where 175 should go, if they can ignore the steep-slope ordinance, or if they can get a residential variance on the Unilever property.

It's all about planning and strategy and management and fiscal responsibility, and Edgewater has none of it. How many more broken promises must we endure?

Beatrice M. Robbio

Your Views 2/23/05

The Edgewater Borough Council has repealed regulations designating handicapped parking spaces.

In a recent posting on the borough Web site, Councilwoman Neda Rose stated that people could appeal this change to the council. My question is where are handicapped people going to park if all the handicapped spots have been eliminated? And will the council limit each of those who appear to five minutes to express their views?

Maybe our elected officials should take the time to listen to the public. If they did, perhaps they would actually make more-informed decisions that are truly representative of the needs and desires of the people.

John R. Brophy

spacer back


A Shadowy Web of State Agencies and Developers

July 24, 2005

THROUGH a confusing maze of independent authorities and government commissions, the state offers millions of dollars each year to real estate developers in the form of low-interest loans, expedited permits and, most lucrative of all, choice sites and contracts - amounts that make some government departments look like candy-store operations.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, for example, has a budget of $263 million and $1 billion in assets. The Economic Development Authority provided $310 million in low-interest financing for urban development last year. And the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which has $92 million in real estate holdings alone, distributed nearly $40 million for renewal projects.

Over the years an emerging pattern has fed the already-strong impression that New Jersey's ethics are built on shifting sand: the boards of many independent agencies are populated largely by real estate developers, building contractors and representatives of engineering and architecture firms and of energy and utility companies. And as private money intertwines more and more with ambitious redevelopment projects, government watchdog groups are growing increasingly suspicious and see the appointment process as forging connections between state government and private enterprise.

"We put developers on boards who take care of other developers who sit on other boards who then take care of them," said Jeff Tittel, the director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, who clashes regularly with builders and government agencies.

In the view of most state officials, taxpayers are receiving invaluable - and free - service from people who are for the most part meticulous about any appearance of conflict of interest.

After all, development is, in part, what public authorities are for: to make construction and economic growth happen, and to bring expertise and efficiency that ordinary government agencies are notoriously lacking.

Bernard Spigner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said that when the agency negotiates with private developers, "on the other side of the table is a real estate professional with his phalanx of attorneys. On our side, I would hope we'd have a real estate professional."

Still, no one denies that these days, developers' participation in public business is a delicate issue in a state with a crucial shortage of land, a boom in urban redevelopment and a tradition of pay-to-play politics.

"New Jersey's political culture has created a lot of opportunities," said Michael N. Danielson, an expert in urban politics and development at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. "We don't have a very clear notion in New Jersey of conflict of interest."

And the problem appears larger now, even if public officials' ethics are no worse than ever, "because the price of land goes up, the size of deals goes up, the bond issues are bigger, the government stake is bigger," Mr. Danielson said.

Consider the startling rise and fall of Charles Kushner, the billionaire developer and Democratic campaign donor. Mr. Kushner gave $1.5 million to James E. McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign and won appointment to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from Mr. McGreevey in 2002. He then lobbied vigorously, and successfully, to be nominated as chairman. Only after he came under investigation did Mr. Kushner relinquish the nomination as well as his board membership. He is now in prison for tax fraud, campaign finance violations and a bizarre scheme using a prostitute to blackmail his brother-in-law.

Some developers who work in other states agree with Mr. Danielson that New Jersey is different.

The business climate here "is just a quagmire, a morass of politics," said an executive at a commercial development company with properties around the nation.

'Open to Conflicts'

"You're certainly open to conflicts when people who are actively developing are making the rules," said the executive, who asked that he and his company not be identified because they do work here. "This state is just fraught with all those connections."

Environmental advocates say that even if the potential for conflicts and self-dealing could magically disappear, the agencies that make policy would still be in the grip of interested parties.

"This is New Jersey," said David Pringle, the campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "We have a sewage discharger in charge of the Clean Water Council, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce in charge of the Clean Air Council. We have a developer in charge of the state plan."

New Jersey does have a conflict-of-interest law, and last month Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey issued an executive order that required training in ethics rules for members of boards and authorities, most of whom are appointed by the governor and subject to Senate approval.

Yet questioning and public comment are practically unheard of at that stage. In Mr. Kushner's case, for example, he steadfastly refused to appear before the senators, who confirmed him anyway without debate.

Board members at the biggest agencies must file annual financial statements. But Common Cause New Jersey, among others, says that is not enough. In a recent report, the organization recommended that appointees be required to disclose, in addition to their property holdings, their interests in any contracts, options or negotiations involving real estate.

At the least, the report said, such a rule should apply to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Sports and Exposition Authority, the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, the Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, which are "all involved in key development decisions that influence billions of dollars of private financing."

To be sure, most of the more than 400 state authorities and commissions have nothing to do with real estate or even public spending. But the biggest agencies account for most of the $14 billion a year that flows through the state's shadow government of boards and authorities, much of which goes toward development projects.

One of these, the Sports and Exposition Authority, has recently drawn attention for a spate of huge real estate transactions - and so has its chairman, Carl J. Goldberg. Mr. Goldberg is also the managing partner in the Roseland Property Company in Short Hills, which develops apartment buildings and expensive town houses in older industrial cities that are being gentrified, including Weehawken, West New York, Bayonne and Harrison.

No one has accused Mr. Goldberg - who was appointed by Gov. James E. McGreevey - of any wrongdoing, but his real estate interests have prompted questions about potential conflicts in his dual role. And indeed, his situation reflects the delicate balance that many gubernatorial appointees have to strike.

In 2003, the sports authority designated a new tenant for the Meadowlands sports complex, the $1.3 billion Xanadu shopping and entertainment center now rising around the Continental Airlines Arena. The authority is giving land to the New York Giants to replace their stadium, and it is relocating the MetroStars soccer team, which currently plays there.

The authority's plan to build the new soccer stadium in Harrison has led to questions about Mr. Goldberg's role, since the site is only blocks from where Roseland plans to build townhouses and retail stores - part of an ambitious project to revitalize 275 acres of riverfront.

Mr. Goldberg said in an interview that he was not participating in talks involving the soccer stadium, which most agree will enhance the property values in the area, although he also said he would not rule out voting on the matter.

"Nothing pertinent to a stadium deal has ever come before the board," he said. When it does, he said, he would confer with the authority's lawyers about whether to recuse himself. "But that's premature," he said.

Criticized Over Rail Line

Mr. Goldberg has also supported a $1 billion extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line to the Meadowlands complex and Xanadu - a matter that critics say Mr. Goldberg should avoid since the rail line serves Roseland's huge Port Imperial project on the Weehawken waterfront.

And this spring, Mr. Goldberg joined a real estate partnership that had already been chosen to develop a 102-acre project in Bayonne to be called Harbor Station, the first stage of a multibillion-dollar redevelopment of the Military Ocean Terminal, a former Navy base, which will also be served by the light rail line.

Mr. Goldberg said he and the authority's lawyers saw no conflict in his joining the board's unanimous vote in April to authorize a $300,000 study of the Meadowlands rail extension.

Rose Heck, a former assemblywoman from Bergen County who has campaigned to extend the light rail line north first, said Mr. Goldberg, given his real-estate interests, should have recused himself. "In Government 101, the first thing you learn is the appearance of conflict is just as important as the conflict," Ms. Heck said.

But Mr. Goldberg said that the rail line was "a regional transportation issue" and that "as chair of the sports authority, I see my obligation to ensure varied transportation alternatives." Moreover, he said the future route of the rail line would have no effect on Roseland's properties, where service to PATH and ferry connections to Manhattan are already the established selling point.

"No one would make a decision on where they live so they could get to a football game easier," he said.

Mr. Goldberg did encounter a separate problem, however, in joining the two original developers, Marc Berson and Steven Kalafer, in the Bayonne project: Mr. Kalafer was doing business with the sports authority as the owner of a minor league baseball team, the Bergen Cliff Hawks, which will have a ballpark at the Meadowlands complex.

So Mr. Goldberg has recused himself from any sports authority business involving the ballpark.

"I just find it offensive that we have state agencies in the development business, taking care of their friends," said Mr. Tittel of the Sierra Club.

For his part, Mr. Pringle of the environmental federation said the same potential conflicts of interest could be found in state financing authorities. He cited the Environmental Infrastructure Trust, which finances environmental cleanups and is providing a low-interest loan of more than $100 million to a golf course project in Lyndhurst. The chairman of the trust, Robert A. Briant Sr., is also the head of a contractors trade association.

At the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, which finances urban projects, board members include a real estate developer, a real estate executive from the Lowe's home improvement chain and the chairman of a lumber company. A spokesman for the authority, E. J. Miranda, said "it is not unusual" for board members to recuse themselves in votes, although there is no formal record of recusals.

One former board member - by coincidence, Mr. Berson, a partner of Mr. Goldberg in Bayonne - said he thought it was wiser simply to resign.

One Developer Avoided Risk

Rather than risk any entanglement with the redevelopment authority's possible involvement in the proposed professional ice hockey arena in Newark, Mr. Berson - who has other valuable real estate holdings in the city - left the agency two years ago.

"It wasn't worth someone thinking ill of me or the agency," Mr. Berson said.

Many legal and real estate experts insist that potential conflicts are rare. Moreover, Robert S. Goldsmith, a lawyer who has represented many municipalities and teaches at the Rutgers law school in Newark, said that with the surge in urban and brownfields projects, "it would be a terrible disservice" to exclude the most experienced practitioners from the state's involvement in redevelopment.

John Weingart of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers and a former chairman of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission, said that "developers have become the easy enemy."

"They have an interest and a point of view," Mr. Weingart said, "but they have a lot of on-the-ground information."

When he was an official at the Department of Environmental Protection, Mr. Weingart said, "I found input from developers more useful, specific and informed than comments I received from the other side."

Influence Over Land-Use Policy

A less optimistic view comes from Jim Gilbert, a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch and a former chairman of the State Planning Commission, who helped write legislation that established the commission as well as the State Development and Redevelopment Plan.

In designating "centers" where high-density development is allowed, or marking off land too environmentally fragile for building, the commission - whose current chairwoman, Christiana Foglio, is the president of a development company and the wife of Trenton's mayor, Douglas Palmer - heavily influences land-use policy. Mr. Gilbert said that development and construction interests had got increasing representation on the commission in recent years.

"The economic interests that are directly affected by this legislation make it their business to co-opt it," he said. "I'm not ascribing bad motives to people in the development industry, but the bottom line is what counts for them is their pocketbook."

George Hawkins, the director of New Jersey Future, a statewide planning organization, said he was more concerned about local deal-making than state policy-making.

"You never get far away in New Jersey from the pay-to-play situation," Mr. Hawkins said. "If these people are on a board, the decisions are on the record. I'm more worried about pay-to-play decisions happening behind the scenes."

Mr. Danielson at Princeton would ban developers from authorities and boards that do real estate business. "Hire somebody," he said. "Hire a consultant."

But Mr. Goldberg, who estimated that he spends half his working hours on sports authority business, dismissed Mr. Danielson's suggestion, saying: "That's nice to say when you're spending the taxpayers¹ money. If someone like myself was being compensated as a consultant that would be a fairly expensive obligation."

spacer back
Those familiar with "business as usual" in Edgewater will be interested to read the following New York Times article.


Officials Pleaded Guilty, but Town Was Changed Forever

July 11, 2005

MARLBORO TOWNSHIP, N.J., July 6 - The price of corruption in this New Jersey town may best be seen in the many rooflines that snake down Woodcliff Boulevard at a uniform 25-foot setback from the curb. Or perhaps in the postmodern stylings of the luxury five- and six-bedroom homes in the planned community of Lexington Estates.

Maybe another way to view it is in the population increase, 100 percent in 15 years, to 40,000 today from 20,000 in 1990.

Or some say it can be summed up in one word: sprawl.

In the last decade, this Monmouth County suburb was transformed from a town that was open and airy to one that is condensed and clustered with new development bordering new development - but where housing for blue-collar families and others of moderate income is in short supply.

Local, state and federal officials say the rapid growth is not an accident but the consequence of development that went largely unchecked because of complicity between builders and local officials.

A federal inquiry into corruption in this town led to the arrests of a former mayor, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges this spring; a former utility authority commissioner and Democratic leader, who on Tuesday pleaded guilty to extortion and bribery charges; and a local developer, who is charged with bribery. At the same time, a flood of subpoenas have been served on current and former town planning and zoning officials.

The arrests and subpoenas are part of a broader sweep of Monmouth County that has led to 19 arrests or indictments of elected and appointed officials or contractors and three guilty pleas this year, with the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the office of United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie continuing.

Investigators and current local officials say they have identified a pattern in which some developers received zoning variances to build sprawling, high-profit housing subdivisions on land that had been set aside for commercial development. In many cases, they were able to build these subdivisions at higher densities than would ordinarily have been allowed.

Often, developers, as well as local officials, justified the rezoning and higher densities of the subdivisions by citing the town's need to meet state goals for building so-called affordable housing.

But what actually happened in most cases, said lawyers for the town and current town officials, was a shell game of land swaps in which units of low- and moderate-income housing that were included in early drafts of plans fell by the wayside, and the resulting developments were solely market-rate housing at the higher density anyway.

From 1995 to 2005, 3,388 new homes were built in this 33-square-mile town, much of which was made up of horse farms and cornfields as recently as 20 years ago. Of that number, only 184 homes that meet the state's definition of affordable for moderate-income families were built, far short of the 1,019 units that the state's Council on Affordable Housing required to be built by July 2004.

As a result, the township, which officials say has already been strained by the surge in development, is still required by the state to immediately build additional units for low- and moderate-income residents.

Mayor Robert Kleinberg, who was a local gadfly until he was elected in 2003 after the investigation of the developers and the former mayor, has appealed to the state to back off its requirement.

"We have argued that because a lot of the land-use actions were criminal and the subject of ongoing investigations, that we should be allowed to put it off for a time," Mr. Kleinberg said." We haven't met our goals because of all the manipulation and wheeling and dealing by town officials and developers."

Mr. Kleinberg and other officials say that the last thing the town needs right now is more housing. In addition to a glut of four- and five-bedroom homes, the town is suffering from schools swelled to bursting, congested local roads, and flooding and drainage problems. He and other officials have said they will build lower-price housing, but would like to put it off until the federal inquiry is complete, and so they can mix it with more taxable commercial properties that will help ease burdens on residents. (The town carries enormous debt because the previous administration chose to borrow rather than raise taxes, Mr. Kleinberg said.)

Kathleen Cali, a resident for decades, asked: "What will affordable housing do now but just increase the number of people in a smaller area, kids in the school and traffic on the roads?"

She added, "Sometimes I can't even get out of my development because of the traffic. It seems that we are going to suffer because of those wrong decisions made by officials in the past."

Charles Richman, the acting commissioner of the state's Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the Council on Affordable Housing, said the town's request for a delay was pending, and might be considered by the council in September.

The impasse is the latest chapter in the state's long history of requiring suburbs to build low- and moderately priced housing or apartments - the result of the landmark 1975 Mount Laurel case.

While many towns have sought to delay or challenge the housing requirements set by the state, according to Peter O'Connor, the lawyer who argued the case, Marlboro's approach is novel.

"It's usually fairly standard, with towns arguing that they lack the infrastructure to meet their requirement, or lack the land or have environmental concerns," said Mr. O'Connor, who is executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, a public interest law firm promoting low- and moderate-income housing efforts. "But no one has ever made the argument that they are making."

Perhaps few other towns could.

Matthew V. Scannapieco, 54, who was mayor of Marlboro from 1992 to 2003, pleaded guilty in April to accepting $245,000 in bribes from a local developer in exchange for supporting his development plans. In May, Anthony Spalliero, 64, a developer, was arrested on four federal charges of offering bribes in Marlboro, Manalapan and the Monmouth County seat of Freehold, said Mr. Christie, the United States attorney. The properties in Mr. Spalliero's bribery indictment are the same properties for which Mr. Scannapieco pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

On Tuesday, the town's former Democratic chairman and municipal utility authority commissioner, Richard Vuola, 74, pleaded guilty to extorting money from several developers and carrying out one of the bribery schemes that Mr. Spalliero is accused of originating.

"Richard Vuola joins the rogues gallery of public officials in Monmouth County who used their positions of authority to harm rather than help their communities," Mr. Christie said at the time of the guilty plea. "Marlboro Township was particularly vulnerable and under intense development pressure, something Vuola and others capitalized on from their elected and appointed positions."

In addition, a former member of the town's planning board, Stanley Young, 71, pleaded guilty on June 20 to accepting bribes.

According to Mayor Kleinberg, F.B.I. agents regularly attend meetings of the town's council, planning and zoning boards. During the last week of June, federal agents served two members of planning and zoning boards with subpoenas during one of the public sessions.

"I look at it as if I am a man in a burning building and the F.B.I. are the firemen coming in to rescue me," Mr. Kleinberg said.

Andrew Bayer, the town's lawyer, said that Marlboro's housing problems could be traced back to deals like one in 1993 involving Mr. Spalliero. In that deal, Mr. Spalliero had a contract to buy a parcel of land on the condition that it be rezoned as residential from commercial and be included in the town's low- and moderate-income housing plan, which allowed higher density than is typical.

He would have been able to build 1,019 housing units, with at least 233 set aside for moderate-income families. The land was rezoned and was included in the town's housing plan, thus receiving the higher density allowance, but Mr. Spalliero never bought it.

Two years later, however, the town gave him permission to transfer the special density allowance to three other parcels in the town, though they totaled fewer acres than the original parcel. By 1998, after having submitted a third amendment to the plan, Mr. Spalliero gained permission to build 323 units on a number of scattered sites, including one gated community of homes on 20,000-square-foot lots.

But according to Mr. Bayer, he did not build any low- or moderate-income housing on those sites.

"It is readily apparent that there were a significant number of market units built in Marlboro under the guise of satisfying the town's affordable-housing requirement," Mr. Bayer said. "The result was that we didn't get any affordable housing out of those deals."

Michael Critchley, Mr. Spalliero's lawyer, did not respond to several messages.

Meanwhile, questions have emerged about the 184 moderate-income housing units that actually were built, Mr. Bayer said. Those condominiums and townhouses, none of which are rentals, might have recently been resold at prices high enough to violate the state requirement that such housing remain accessible to moderate-income residents for 30 years. Mr. Bayer said the town has sued those who sold the units.

Mayor Kleinberg said, "We're going to be paying for the corrupt acts of the former officials for a long time to come, and even if they are convicted, it doesn't unbuild the homes, uncrowd the schools or decongest the roads."

The town, which has found its services, and therefore its budget, stretched to the limit, has called for Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey and the State Legislature to consider awarding some sort of emergency fiscal status and aid to communities like Marlboro Township. Mr. Kleinberg is proposing a municipal version of the crime victims compensation fund, arguing that "victims of corruption" are as deserving of state attention as victims of crime.

So far, few lawmakers have responded to the call.

One homeowner, Ms. Cali, who grew up in Brooklyn, said that the swirl of events that led to the overbuilding had been confusing and wearying, but she that had never thought she lived in a corrupt town.

"I thought that that was just the way things were done in the suburbs," she said.

spacer back


Edgewater Ferry Stuck in Red-tape Sea

Sunday, May 29, 2005

EDGEWATER - Plans to bring ferry service to Grand Cove Marina are moving sluggishly, slowed by a thicket of red tape.

A couple of years ago, ferry supporters said service could begin as early as the fall of 2004. Five months ago, borough officials said they were confident the project would remain on schedule - meaning, they said, construction on the ferry landing would begin by early this summer.

However, even that timetable looks unlikely now, as borough leaders consider taking over the reins of the project from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That shift could delay the project even further, although some council members hope it will speed things up.

The Borough Council tabled a vote on the issue at its last meeting and expects to reconsider it at its next one.

Councilwoman Lois Fein, one of the ferry's strongest supporters, said the borough has done a lot of work, despite the delays.

"You can't see it, but we have accomplished a lot," said Fein, who campaigned for council on a platform of bringing ferry service to Edgewater three years ago and is up for reelection this fall. Fein said that because so many different government entities and professionals have had to work together, "it's no wonder it's taken us this long."

But Councilwoman Valory Bardinas had a different take.

"Things aren't progressing as smoothly as I was told and as I hoped they would have," Bardinas said. "I don't think this project is proceeding on schedule. I think we're facing a lot of roadblocks."

Among them is the question of who should operate the ferry.

Borough leaders are still trying to decide whether NY Waterway, the cash-strapped ferry company that was bailed out this year by a Manhattan lawyer, is in good enough financial shape to be trusted with the Edgewater route. The lawyer, William Wachtel, took over 16 NY Waterway boats and the company's routes from Jersey City to the Hoboken Train Terminal and relieved the company of $19.1 million in debt.

Borough Administrator Harvey Weber said a team is "evaluating the finances of NY Waterway." He said the members of the team could not be identified because the process is considered confidential.

In the first round of bidding for a ferry operator, last year, the borough received only two bids, one from NY Waterway and the other from New York Water Taxi, whose bid was deemed incomplete. The council decided to award the contract to NY Waterway, but then in December, changed its mind and withdrew the offer, citing concerns about NY Waterway's financial straits.

The borough rebid the contract, but the second time around, NY Waterway was the only bidder.

"I'm afraid that possibly, other companies don't want to come here because they don't see it as a viable operation," Bardinas said. "I'm concerned that we've advertised for this as extensively as we possibly could and we still only got one party interested."

Donald Liloia, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of NY Waterway, said he is confident the company could take on the Edgewater route and operate it successfully. The company projects about 1,000 passengers would ride the ferry into Manhattan each morning, Liloia said.

Liloia said the business is in a better position now than in the past. "We continue to struggle, but we're confident that we've righted our condition here," he said. "We're in the right direction."

Fein said the council had not discussed the borough's options in case NY Waterway doesn't work out.

On the issue of whether Edgewater should take over control of the project, Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said, "It's my understanding this is something the borough wants to do." Some council members, however, said they believe the change was requested by the agency.

Coleman also said it is not unusual for the Port Authority to give the lead of a project to another agency, citing the example of the Hoboken ferry terminal, although in that case, NJ Transit is supervising the project.

Mayor Nancy Merse issued a written statement saying that the borough and the Port Authority are negotiating an agreement covering the remainder of the project and that since it has not been finalized, she could not discuss its details.

Financing for the ferry/marina project will come from several sources. The Port Authority agreed to give the borough $7.5 million. In addition, the borough expects $3 million in grants from Bergen County and the state; Edgewater taxpayers approved spending $2.3 million in a referendum on open space.

spacer back


Edgewater Mulls Offer of Police Building

Sunday, March 27, 2005

EDGEWATER - For months, borough officials have been wringing their hands over the price of building a new police station.

Now, the company that plans to redevelop the Unilever property - about 24 acres of prime real estate on the Hudson River - has proposed turning a building there into a police station, with the borough covering the cost of conversion.

National RE/sources of Greenwich, Conn., said the plan would eliminate the need to build a station from scratch.

The developer would also ask the borough's permission to build homes, restaurants, offices and stores on the property, which is zoned for offices and research.

National RE/sources pitched the idea last week.

"I think it's a unique opportunity to reconnect Edgewater to some of its waterfront," said Joe Cotter, president of National RE/sources. "There's also an exciting opportunity to revitalize some of the original Unilever buildings."

Cotter said the company is still working out what to build on the site. No plans have been submitted to the borough.

Cotter estimated it would cost $1.5 million to $1.7 million to retrofit the building. The latest round of bids for a new police station ranged from $5.1 million to $5.7 million. The council had hoped to keep construction costs under $4 million.

Paul Kaufman, a lawyer for the developer, said the company had no plans to sell the building or the land under it to the borough. Cotter said the company would consider leasing the space to the borough, possibly at no cost.

A preliminary analysis indicated the building could easily be adapted to suit the needs of the police, Kaufman said. It was built in 1999 and totals 15,904 square feet, which means it is slightly larger than the three-story police headquarters the borough is considering building across the street from Borough Hall.

Mayor Nancy Merse has appointed a committee to look into the feasibility of the proposal. She did not return calls for comment.

Councilwoman Maureen Holtje, who will serve on the committee, toured the building last week with several other officials and some police officers.

"It was great," Holtje said. "It's really a beautiful building. It's got a lot of potential. I think if everything could work out, it's going to be great for the taxpayers."

Councilman David Jordan was also enthusiastic. "It was very well-received by the police, Planning Board and other people," he said. "It could save the taxpayers an enormous [amount of money]."

Police Chief Donald Martin, who has long advocated a new home for the department, currently housed in cramped quarters in the basement of Borough Hall, was cautiously optimistic.

"Basically, it's a nice-looking building, and it seems to be in a viable location," Martin said. "The ingredients are there, but I think we're very early on in the whole transformation process." Still, he hastened to add, "anything is better than here."

However, Mary Hogan, a borough resident and former councilwoman, wondered what the developer would seek in return.

"I would like to have seen the plans for the rest of it first," Hogan said.

If the borough purchases the completed police station from National RE/sources, she said, it would bypass the bidding process. She also was concerned that the borough would again be adding more residential development at the cost of other types of growth, harming the tax base.

National RE/sources specializes in redeveloping industrial and corporate properties. It has worked on projects in Lake Success, Tarrytown and Yonkers, N.Y., and in Norwalk, Conn.

In August, I Park Edgewater, an affiliate of National RE/sources, purchased the Unilever property for $23 million. A spokeswoman for Unilever said the company plans to vacate the campus - which gave birth to such products as Wisk laundry detergent and Imperial margarine - by May.

spacer back


Borough to Rebid Ferry Deal

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

EDGEWATER - Plans to bring ferry service here are moving full speed ahead, borough leaders say, despite the council's decision Monday to withdraw acontract for NY Waterway to operate the service.

Council members voted unanimously to withdraw the contract after recent reports of the company's financial problems.

On Tuesday, borough leaders said they intend to rebid the contract. Several said they remain confident that ferry service will come to Edgewater onschedule, which would mean construction on the ferry landing would begin next spring or early summer.

Edward J. Boccher of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler, Edgewater's special counsel for redevelopment matters, said he expects a new contract would be awarded no later than March. That would allow the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to proceed on schedule with the ferry landing, Boccher said.

Far from being a problem, council President Lois Fein said, the exit of NY Waterway could be a boon to Edgewater.

"I think that there may be a chance for other companies at this moment, or backers of potential ferry service, to come forward," said Fein, one of the first proponents of ferry service in Edgewater. "I think there are other ferry companies in the area, and perhaps they'll step up to the plate next time."

In the first round of bids, only NY Waterway and New York Water Taxi submitted proposals. New York Water Taxi's bid was deemed incomplete because it failed to provide a $175,000 security deposit, according to a former attorney for the borough.

On Tuesday, Stacey Sherman, who handles public relations for New York Water Taxi, disputed that account, saying the company withdrew its bid after it decided it would not be able to meet the requirements set by the borough. She said the company would be very interested in reviewing a new request for proposals.

The Port Authority, which has agreed to give Edgewater $7.5 million to bring ferry service to town, also downplayed the significance of NY Waterway's exit from the plan. "We are not concerned. The Port Authority strongly believes that ferry service is an integral part of the region's transportation network," said Tony Ciavolella, a spokesman for the authority.

Councilwoman Valory Bardinas was among the few to express any doubts.

"I'm concerned about the costs. I'm concerned with the delay. Every time that we delay something, we have to pay our professionals more money - our attorneys, the engineers," Bardinas said.

Beyond the costs, Bardinas wondered if the borough could even find someone to take over the routes, given NY Waterway's difficulties. "I'm a little apprehensive now," she said. "I think if we can get a ferry provider in there who is going to provide the service that we're looking for, that would be great, but I just think if one of the largest providers of ferry service can't do it, what's the outlook for small services?"

Last year, 60 percent of borough voters approved a ballot proposal to bring ferry service to Edgewater. In addition to the Port Authority, the borough is counting on grant money from Bergen County and the state's Green Acres program to help pay the cost of acquiring Grand Cove Marina, at the junction of Route 5 and River Road.

Charlene Pilson, a senior saleswoman with the Chen Agency, which she said is the top real estate company in Edgewater in terms of sales, said her office had a meeting Monday about how to handle the issue of the ferry when talking with clients.

"The conclusion was that ... it won't affect Edgewater," Pilson said. She said the Edgewater real estate market is very hot now, ferry or not.

"We've been saying you know what, we can't promise you a ferry. Don't buy here because of the ferry," Pilson said. "But they buy anyway."


spacer back


Time Running Out for NY Waterway

Sunday, December 5, 2004

It was a "perfect storm" that swamped NY Waterway, company President Arthur Imperatore Jr. says. It was mismanagement, government officials say.

Hudson River ferry service needs taxpayer subsidies, Imperatore says. A private operator can make money, government officials say.

It will be "wonderful" if the family can keep the business, Imperatore says. Unlikely, government officials say.

About all the parties can agree on is that NY Waterway will not survive in its current form - more than $53 million in debt with almost no operating capital.

"We have run out of time and money," Imperatore said during a 90-minute interview last week. "It's a marginal business in the best of times. In the worst of times, you can lose an awful lot of money quickly."

A Waterway bankruptcy could force tens of thousands of commuters onto buses and PATH trains. It could devalue land from Atlantic Highlands to the North Jersey Gold Coast. And it could call into question public investment in new ferry terminals.

The result has been a scramble by government agencies to find a solution.

The most promising idea so far is for a collection of Hudson County waterfront towns to borrow as much as $37 million, take over the service and slash the number of routes. But even that idea has been tough to sell to county freeholders, who will take another look at it this week.

That has left it to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has shown little interest in running the boats or bailing out the Imperatores. The agency said Friday it may study the issue.

Imperatore called the Port Authority's reticence "puzzling."

"I think the Port Authority has an important role to play here," he said. "Its central mission is to enhance trans-Hudson transportation."

One Port Authority official, who asked not to be identified, said service will continue - but without Imperatores at the helm.

"There is a general feeling that the Imperatore company grew too quickly," the official said. "It doesn't mean there won't be continued ferry service, just that there will be some type of restructuring. They go out of business, and other companies will come in and service a significant number of the routes - ones that are essential."

Imperatore said that the Sept. 11 attacks were the turning point for the company.

With the PATH system in tatters after the attack, ferries were the only direct way to reach lower Manhattan.

Before the attacks, Waterway was handling 32,000 passenger trips - or one-way rides - each day. After the attacks, that number doubled.

Waterway chartered dozens of boats, paying as much as $5,000 a day, to handle the load, Imperatore said. The company then made a decision to buy five boats at $2 million each, taking on $10 million in additional debt.

"It's a business risk we took," Imperatore said. "In retrospect, it was probably not the thing to do."

Other factors combined to generate Imperatore's "perfect storm," which he said has destroyed the company. Among them:

  • Gasoline prices far outpaced expectations, rising to $1.65 a gallon for the 100,000 gallons used by NY Waterway each week.
  • When PATH service was restored in November 2003, riders returned to the rails in numbers not projected by the Port Authority for years.
  • That winter, the Hudson froze, effectively shutting down ferry service for two weeks in January.
  • The company made expensive deals with the Port Authority and New York City to run ferry routes that, in some cases, cost it $50,000 a month.
  • The destruction of the World Trade Center created a dearth of jobs in lower Manhattan, and a lot of empty seats on the boats.

"If we do not secure some kind of takeout from our current condition, we could stop operating by mid-January," Imperatore said.

The company is already preparing for the worst.

Capstone Corporate Recovery, which specializes in helping distressed companies, has been hired as NY Waterway's financial adviser. And the law firm Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman and Leonard of Hackensack has been hired to review the company's options, including a possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

NY Waterway owes $33 million on its vessels, including $10 million to its main creditor JP Morgan Chase, Imperatore said.

Another $8.5 million is owed to Chase on a revolving credit line. About $7 million is owed in trade debt and about $5 million on buses and barges.

The company did not always carry such a large debt burden.

In 1999, its debt was $14.7 million according to documents reviewed by The Record. In 2000, that rose to $21.7 million.

And there has been government help. Nearly $100 million is being spent to build ferry terminals on both sides of the Hudson, a move acknowledged by Imperatore.

But he insisted that government operating subsidies will be needed to keep ferries afloat.

"Policymakers in this region have to come to grips with that," he said. "The transportation sector of the economy is in crisis. [Ferry service] may not be the role of private industry anymore."

That's a switch from Imperatore's attitude in September 2002, when he told The Record: "The real legacy of the ferry system will probably be seen 20 to 25 years from now, at which point I expect private ferry services to be carrying a quarter-million people a day."

Now, he's hoping that the Hudson County Improvement Authority will get approval to buy out the service and save NY Waterway from bankruptcy court.

But key approvals are needed for such a move, including OKs from the Hudson County freeholders, the towns of Hoboken and Weehawken, and the state's Local Finance Board, which approves bond issues.

Several key votes are scheduled for this week, but Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise wasn't overly confident that the measure would pass.

I'm not real optimistic it's going to happen," he said Friday, noting that Jersey City officials weren't terribly keen on the deal. "But I haven't given up on it yet."

State officials say the Hudson County buyout is the best option at this point.

If that happens, a separate authority comprised of Weehawken and Hoboken officials will be created to run the system.

And the number of ferry routes would be slashed, with profitable routes, such as those that service the Hudson Valley and Monmouth County, sold. Unprofitable or marginally profitable routes would be scrapped.

Such a reconstituted ferry system could cover expenses, pay the debt and generate a yearly surplus of $1.5 million, according to an analysis done for the Improvement Authority by the NW Financial Group.

"If this deal does not happen, then we could see the end of ferry service," Imperatore said.

That is unlikely. Without a Hudson County deal, the Port Authority would likely put routes out to private bidders, an agency official said.

Bus service would be provided by NJ Transit and New York City on each side of the river, in that case, the official said.

Private companies, such as NY Water Taxi and Academy Bus, have expressed interest in running ferry routes, the official said.

Such a system could result in a number of different companies running boats in the Hudson.

"I don't think having one ferry operator is an option, as demonstrated by what has happened," said Deborah Jack, founder of advocacy group Ferry Friends. "The Port Authority being the gatekeeper is imperative. There are not enough ferry riders to fill the business needs of a lot of different operators."

Ferry Friends has lobbied lawmakers and planning groups for months to hold a ferry symposium to figure out the best way to keep boats plying the Hudson.

"The long-term goal is a regional ferry system serving New York and New Jersey," Jack said.

That lobbying may be having an effect.The Regional Plan Association has asked the Port Authority, NJ Transit and the Metropolitan Transit Authority to help fund a regional study of ferries.

"The Port Authority is considering a multiagency review of ferry service throughout the region," spokesman Steve Coleman said.

Ferries have a rich history on the Hudson, serving as the only way across the river to Manhattan before bridges and tunnels were built in the early 1900s.

But privately operated ferries stopped running in the 1960s. It wasn't until 1986, when Arthur Imperatore Sr. decided to use boats to feed waterfront residential development - on land he owned in Weehawken. - that service returned to the Hudson.

By 1993, four routes were being run across the Hudson, with 12 boats carrying 11,000 passengers a day. In 2002, after PATH service was disabled, that number rose to 65,000.

When PATH returned to lower Manhattan last year, ridership plummeted to 32,000 a day, leaving NY Waterway with a mound of debt and not enough revenue to service it.

PATH trains charge $1.50 per ride. The average waterway fare is slightly more than $5 per trip.

In an effort to stem the tide, Waterway has increased fares twice in the last 15 months, but that has resulted in a 4 percent to 5 percent drop in riders and only marginally increased revenue.

In addition to declining ridership, other events have swirled around NY Waterway during the past several years.

The company has faced obligations created by sister company APA Transport, a defunct trucking firm.

At least six pension funds, most involving the Teamsters union, have filed suit against APA since it shut down in February 2002. Under federal law, the pension funds can pursue affiliates, such as NY Waterway, for their money.

Although some cases have been resolved, with plaintiffs receiving payments, others have not. The total obligation, according to court records reviewed by The Record, tops $8.2 million.

The sale of the 30-plus acres on 88th Street in North Bergen, where APA had its truck yard, is expected to be final by year's end, NY Waterway officials said Friday. The proceeds are expected to be used to cover the pension debt.

NY Waterway also faces a federal investigation into possible overcharges to the federal government for services provided after Sept. 11 and alleged anti-competitive activities, according to some parties interviewed by investigators.

Company officials have denied any wrongdoing and said they have fully cooperated with any federal requests for information.

Imperatore said none of that matters. The only thing of concern is survival of ferries on the Hudson.

"This is not about the Imperatore family anymore," he said. "I would like to see the ferries continue, no matter who runs them. We wrote the book. The book may be coming to an end."


spacer back


Ferry Failure Could Tarnish Allure of the Gold Coast

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Commuters aren't the only ones who would lose if NY Waterway were to shut down or drastically reduce its services.

Ferries have become a way of life for residents along the "Gold Coast" - the thriving waterfront communities of Bergen and Hudson counties - and in Monmouth County, where many enjoy access to ferry service that carry them to the World Financial Center across Raritan Bay, the Narrows and New York Harbor.

"I think it would affect the value of rents in my development," said Fred Daibes, chairman and chief executive of Daibes Enterprises, who has had a hand in more than $500 million in construction along the Edgewater waterfront. "We like the ability to tell people you can get on the ferry and get into the city."

Edgewater Councilman Dale Ludwig agreed. He has been one of the leaders of the borough's drive to convert a private marina into a ferry terminal.

"There's no question about it," Ludwig said. "Wherever ferry services come into a town, it has a positive impact on property taxes."

In 1999, Edgewater voters approved an annual tax levy of 3 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value to acquire the Grand Cove marina for preservation and recreational purposes. Last year, 60 percent of the borough's voters approved a proposal to bring ferry service.

Construction will cost an estimated $5.69 million in addition to an estimated $6 million for the land. About $7.5 million of the total funding will come from the Port Authority, and additional grants are expected from Bergen County and the state's Green Acres program.

"It's going to have a real positive impact on the town in terms of property values," Ludwig said. "It really makes traveling to the city civilized. It's a quality-of-life issue."

The ferry service developed by the Imperatore family and its company, NY Waterway, was one of the key reasons why Roseland Property Co. jumped in to develop the Riverwalk at Port Imperial, a residential project in West New York, nearly a decade ago. Roseland acquired the 100-acre site north of the Port Imperial ferry terminal when Arthur Imperatore Sr. lost it to foreclosure, owing $8 million on a $50 million note.

In Monmouth County, ferry service has been a big selling point at such upscale communities as K. Hovnanian's Dunes at Shoal Harbor in the Port Monmouth. section of Middletown. Town houses there are going for $420,000 to $465,000. On the Realtor's Web site, the first amenity mentioned, even before such attractions as the clubhouse and pool, is the ferry.

The Dunes is on Sandy Hook Bay, "just a stone's throw away from convenient ferry service to New York City," Hovnanian boasts. The Web promotion offers residents "a convenient location, gorgeous views and a quick and easy commute to the Big Apple!"

The alternative, of course, is a mind-numbing bumper-to-bumper crawl up the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike.

"The ferry is certainly a factor," said Doug Fenichel, a spokesman for Red Bank-based Hovnanian.

Kara Homes, which is building single-family homes in Middletown at $600,000 plus, and in Sea Bright, for $3 million and more, takes a similar view.

"Only a 35-minute ferry ride to NYC," the company proclaims, in boldface type, in its description of its Tradewinds at Sea Bright development.

"It does have an effect," said Bill Buhrman, a Kara senior vice president. "We do use it [as] a selling tool."

Ferry service is also part of the appeal at Droyers Point, a Hovnanian town house development in Jersey City, where town houses sell for $375,000 to $470,000, and at Grandview at Riverwalk in West New York, where condominiums are selling for more than $900,000, Fenichel said.

"I think people purchasing homes in [these] communities are buying a lifestyle," Fenichel said. "We are seeing more and more of this, with less dependency on the automobile. The ferry is the icing on the cake."

In Jersey City and southern Hoboken, commuters have an alternative in the PATH trains, but many others would be forced to use cars or buses if ferry service is cut back.

The developments don't need ferry service to thrive, but losing it could make them less attractive, developers say.

"It's not going to close us down, but it definitely would have an effect," Buhrman said.


spacer back


Mayor Proposes Panel on Contracts

Sunday, October 17, 2004

EDGEWATER - Pay-to-play, the practice of awarding government contracts in exchange for campaign contributions, doesn't happen in this town, according to Mayor Nancy Merse.

But the taint rubs off so that people mistrust all politicians, Merse says, which is why she's suggesting a borough "standards committee" to address the issue.

The Borough Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed committee on Monday night.

"I want the committee to investigate a fair and open process to award contracts for the town," said Merse, a Democrat. She would like the committee to come up with suggestions for how the borough's various boards should hire professionals, so that the process is more uniform.

But the council's independents, Valory Bardinas and Denis Gallagher, say the committee is just a political maneuver. They are outnumbered 4-2 by Democrats on the council. Two incumbents - one Democrat and one independent, are seeking reelection.

"She wants to introduce this just in time for the election to defuse any criticisms we might have," said Gallagher, who is on the November ballot.

Bardinas and Gallagher proposed their own version of pay-to-play reform to the council in March, but the council rejected it. The independents suggested restricting the borough from doing business with professionals who had made campaign contributions in the past year, but the council rejected the idea without formally voting on it.

Merse said the council turned down the independents' proposal because members wanted to see what action the state would take. Governor McGreevey signed an order in September that limits pay-to-play somewhat at the state and county levels.

The independents also object to the roster of committee members. Merse has proposed that the mayor, council president, borough clerk, Planning Board chairman, zoning Board of Adjustment chairman and Edgewater Municipal Utility Authority executive director serve on the committee.

Bardinas and Gallagher say all the elected or appointed officials on the committee are Democrats. They also say most of those proposed for the committee have engaged in pay-to-play themselves.

"It's a problem when you hire the same group of people over and over and there's been some question about their ability to perform tasks, but because they donate to the political party in power, they get hired over and over," Bardinas said.

Moreover, Bardinas said, some professionals may offer opinions influenced by what they believe the majority of the council wants to hear.

Merse said politics would be impossible without campaign contributions, however. "Without contributions, nobody can afford to be in office," she said.

Councilwoman Neda Rose said she thinks the committee is a good idea. "It's a step in the right direction," Rose said. "Let's see what happens with it."


spacer back


Getting the Dirt on Town Politics

Thursday, October 7, 2004

EDGEWATER - Sometimes piles of dirt are just piles of dirt. Other times, they take on lives of their own.

Amid all the shiny new construction going up in this booming borough, a group of massive dirt piles on River Road is stirring up controversy. The piles sit across the street from the Edgewater Commons shopping plaza, immediately north of a Storage USA business. Once an industrial area, the neighborhood now features apartments and strip malls.

Some of the piles stand more than a story tall. Large rocks dot the heaps like blueberries in a muffin. Weeds have grown thick. On windy days, dust blows off the piles; during rainstorms, mud spills out across River Road.

The piles, which have been around for at least two years, are the creation of one of the most prominent developers in the borough, Fred Daibes, who helped change Edgewater from a depressed factory town to a luxurious bedroom community to New York.

Public reaction to the piles ranges from indifference to anger.

"It's pretty awful," said Miriam Tausner, who lives in Independence Harbor, close to the dirt piles. "I think it shouldn't be there." Tausner is concerned that the dirt could contain pollutants, given Edgewater's history. A Superfund site sits south of the piles, on the other side of River Road. Rocks often tumble down from the piles, Tausner said.

Pam Moat, owner of a smoothie/oxygen bar in the Shadyside section of town, isn't bothered. "I just figured it was a work in progress and they would eventually go away," said Moat, who opened her shop about a year ago.

With Election Day approaching, the dirt piles are attracting fresh attention.

The two independents on the council, Valory Bardinas and Denis Gallagher, who is running for reelection, have long argued that the piles aren't allowed under borough ordinances. They have asked Daibes where the dirt is coming from and what is in it. Another independent, Mary Hogan, who served three terms on the council and lost her bid for the mayor's seat last year, has also been extremely vocal on the issue. She is running for a council seat again.

"They've played games with this dirt pile," Bardinas said. "Nobody else in town would have been able to get away with it."

The four other council members and the mayor, all Democrats, say that Daibes has received all the necessary approvals. They dismiss suggestions that Daibes has been treated differently.

"We don't give any special privileges to anyone," Mayor Nancy Merse said. "If he's within the law, we can't do anything about it."

Council President Lois Fein, whose husband has worked as a rental agent for Daibes, said the council relied on the advice of the borough's Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, and various attorneys to determine whether the dirt piles violate ordinances.

The debate came to a head this week when Daibes appeared before the council to respond to questions about the piles. Daibes said the dirt came from the construction of the new River Road, Edgewater Commons, and from the St. Moritz, a luxury apartment building under construction.

He said that the soil has been tested, that it is clean, and that the county is taking some for parks. He offered to share the test results or to allow the borough to test the dirt. The Democrats declined, saying the county wouldn't accept the soil if it weren't clean.

"He's in total compliance. Nobody's been able to show anything different," Councilman David Jordan said in an interview.

But the independents see the matter differently.

Hogan contends that the site plan Daibes filed years ago depicts a completely different scenario than what has unfolded at the site of piles. The original plan, Hogan said, shows a circular driveway with landscaping and a building for an office area. Since then, Daibes has received approvals to build a hotel and two office buildings on the site.

Daibes said he plans to go ahead with that project, and he expects the dirt will be removed by early next year.

Gallagher said Daibes and his partner, attorney James Demetrakis, have undue influence over the Democrats because of their campaign contributions.

Some Democrats said they were baffled that after long complaining about the piles, the independents now seemed to want to stop Daibes from removing the dirt. "We have been trying to get rid of that dirt pile and now it's finally going, and they're trying to impede it," Councilwoman Neda Rose said.

"It's a witch hunt," Daibes said of the independents, after his appearance before the council.

Daibes said some dirt has been on the site for 10 years, but that the piles didn't grow to their current height until he started moving dirt from the St. Moritz a couple of years ago.

"This is typical election time rhetoric," Demetrakis said.

According to borough records, the property received a variance in 1997 to allow a "construction office/garage/storage yard." The zoning board ruled that "the proposed improvements, including the lighting and landscape plans, will create a more desirable visual environment which will improve the aesthetics of the overall surrounding area."

As for where the dirt is coming from, John Biale, project coordinator for construction for Bergen County parks, said Daibes had brought soil from a depository in Palisades Park to Edgewater to be processed. Daibes then brought the soil back to Palisades Park for the Bergen County Regional Sports Complex project, for which he is general contractor. Biale said the soil has been tested regularly and is clean.

Daibes said he had voluntarily submitted test results on the dirt to the borough on Wednesday.

"I'll bet you no one looks at them," he said.


spacer back

We are posting a copy of this article from the Record, hoping that the push for a "speedier building process" will not make us overlook environmental issues here in Edgewater.  See quote from Valory Bardinas near end of article.


N.J. OKs Speedier Building Brocess

Friday, June 18, 2004

TRENTON - New Jersey lawmakers voted to loosen the reins on developers in places such as Paterson and Bergen County on Thursday, with a bill hailed by business groups as historic but deemed a disaster by environmentalists.

After hours of closed-door dealing, the state Legislature easily passed a bill to streamline the approval process for building in cities, suburbs, and other areas where the state says it wants to encourage growth.

Legislators' scorecard: a busy day in Trenton

Both the Senate and the Assembly approved a bill Thursday streamlining the permit process for "smart growth" areas. In addition, the Senate approved:

  • A bill that would require health insurers who provide benefits for prescription drugs to include the cost of prescription female contraceptives. It now goes to the Assembly for consideration.
  • A measure that would extend coverage of mammograms to women younger than age 40 by refunding the screening cost for those considered at high risk for breast cancer. It goes to the Assembly.
  • Legislation that would require restaurants to post signs pertaining to the use of nut products in or around prepared food. It heads to the governor's desk.
  • A measure that would ban outsourcing of work to foreign countries by companies with service contracts with the state. It goes to the Assembly.

In addition to the ladies night bill, the Assembly approved:

  • A bill that would give the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania greater oversight of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
  • Legislation that would require most boaters to take a mandatory boat safety course and pass a state exam. It heads to the Senate.
  • A measure that would require a congregate housing facility to post and distribute a resident's bill of rights. It goes to the Senate.

That, supporters said, would steer development away from the reservoirs, streams, and forests Governor McGreevey has sworn to protect. Businesses talked of the reform in revolutionary terms, saying it would boost the state's economy by ripping up the red tape that delays building projects in New Jersey..

"We love this bill!" Jim Sinclair, executive director of the state Business and Industry Association, chortled after the bill passed its final hurdle in the state Assembly. "We weren't sure if McGreevey could get it done. This is Nixon going to China."

Opponents spoke in equally dramatic tones. But they complained Democrats had rammed through a bill that would undermine 30 years of environmental progress in the state. The law would establish a "smart-growth" ombudsman with power to overrule new environmental rules, and it would give regulators as little as 45 days to rule on some permit applications.

Critics said bad projects would be approved and the public would lose the chance to comment on permit applications.

"It would change the face of democracy in New Jersey," said Tom Dallessio, state director for the Regional Plan Association, a land-use think tank in New Brunswick. "If what I'm reading is correct, this process would all but prohibit public hearings or public comments on permits."

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the state Sierra Club, called it "the worst day for the environment in New Jersey ever" and promised to sue if McGreevey signs the bill into law.

The governor's office did not comment on the measure, but McGreevey has said he backs the effort.

The bill passed with bipartisan votes in both houses of the Legislature: 26-10 in the Senate and 47-25 in the Assembly.

But those votes, held without debate in both chambers, came only after hours of bargaining, as Democrats struggled to round up votes. Lobbyists and activists flooded the halls of the State House trying to win converts.

The dealing wasn't always so high-minded. To secure passage in the Assembly, the Democratic majority agreed to give the Republican minority a copy machine, funding for more staff, and more opportunities to vote on GOP bills, according to environmentalists and two members of the Assembly. Spokesman for the two parties denied the story, however, saying members were allowed to vote their consciences.

Most observers said the bill was payback for a measure passed last week to limit building near the reservoirs, streams, and forests of the Highlands region. McGreevey was a vocal supporter of the Highlands bill, saying preservation had to go hand in hand with making it easier to develop elsewhere.

The bill passed Thursday would allow builders to pay higher fees for an expedited review of state permit applications. The fees, still to be set, would pay for extra staff at state agencies to assess the projects.

That would finally ease the regulatory maze that developers find themselves trapped in, supporters said. Developers have complained that projects can be held up for months or years while they wait for a decision.

"There's going to be more people working [on permits], and the standards are going to be just as rigorous," said Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.

Would 45 days be enough time to assess some projects?

"It will be a challenge to implement," Bass Levin said. "But that challenge will be a benefit to older cities and older suburbs struggling to develop. This will bring economic development and opportunity to those areas."

Bass Levin said she didn't know how many new staffers would be hired to speed up permitting. Neither did the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Environmentalists, however, saw a Trojan horse designed to gut regulations in the guise of smart growth. The ombudsman, appointed by the governor, would be able to overturn regulations and pressure agencies to grant permits, they insisted. Approvals for everything from bear hunts to hazardous-waste treatment plants would get easier in areas slated for growth, they said.

Tittel, the Sierra Club director, said he supports easing restrictions for sensible projects in those towns, but not this way.

Instead of setting unrealistic deadlines, the state should hire more staff and make the language of its regulations more precise, he said.

The bill also stirred concerns from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which said it worried the fast-tracked developments might violate federal law. Some developers even withheld support, saying the proposal was being moved too quickly.

Reaction in Bergen County was mixed. In some towns that fear too much development, officials worry about leaving too little time to study the impact on traffic, water supplies, and neighbors.

"I don't see how you can streamline any faster and still meet the public's needs," said Valory Bardinas, an Edgewater councilwoman. "I'm concerned about anybody who's going to cut corners when there are environmental issues involved."

However, County Executive Dennis McNerney noted that builders would still be scrutinized by local and county planning boards. "Cutting bureaucratic red tape is imperative to smart, meaningful growth," he said.

Staff Writer Colleen Diskin contributed to this article.


spacer back


Edgewater of Two Minds on Marina, Ferry Project

Friday, June 11, 2004

EDGEWATER - The vision is an inviting park with a walkway along the Hudson River, benches to take in the view, and access to boating and commuter ferry service into New York.

But residents and elected officials expressed mixed opinions during a public hearing Thursday about plans to develop Grand Cove Marina into a borough-run marina and ferry landing.

Susan Candee praised the ferry-landing proposal, telling the Borough Council she looks forward to having mass transit to New York City.

"This will be a more convenient way to get into Manhattan," she said.

However, residents of Admiral's Walk, a residential complex adjacent to the proposed ferry site, expressed concern about noise, traffic, and air quality.

Resident Lenore Katz said she thought the ferry landing could be an asset to Edgewater, but not at the marina site.

"It's the worst possible place," she said.

The borough bought the marina a couple of years ago with plans to create community open space.

Council member Denis Gallagher added a concern that the ferry would hurt the marina.

"I'm concerned about the health of the marina itself," he said.

The final plans are the culmination of years of studies overseen by the Port Authority, which has offered $7.5 million to fund the project at the intersection of River Road and Route 5.

The plans, which include feasibility reports and architectural renderings, have been available for the public to review at Borough Hall and the public library since last month.

The drawings include a virtual tour of a new marina building that would house offices, a dock that would lead passengers to a ferry landing, and redesigned marina slips that would reduce wakes.

While as many as five sites in the borough had been considered for possible ferry landings, the Grand Cove Marina quickly moved to the top of the list.

Supporters favor the marina site because its parking lot is too small to accommodate commuters' cars. Borough officials want commuters to walk to the ferry landing, ride a shuttle bus, or be dropped off rather than drive. Other landing sites that were considered have large parking lots or are near parking lots that would make it difficult to prevent commuters from driving to a landing.

With the final plans developed, borough officials can begin applying for numerous permits to begin the process, including receiving the go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The council agreed last month that it would not immediately apply for permits to dredge the marina. Experts have told the Borough Council that the permit process would take at least two years.


spacer back

Letter to the Editor (Bergen Record)

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

I read with interest your recent article ("Englewood Democrats blast Ferriero for ballot move" (Page L-1, June 3), and all I could think was "Welcome to Edgewater." As three-term Edgewater councilwomen, Neda Rose and I were thrown off the Democratic line by Chairman Joseph Ferriero for failure to "toe the line" and be good little members of the old boys' club, which includes former Mayor Bryan Christiansen.

My husband, Peter De Paul, was also thrown off the Democratic line for County Committee - twice. I think the article hit the nail right on the head when it pointed out that Englewood is being taken over by outsiders, developers and their political pals.

The bottom line for Ferriero's Democrats is money - not what is best for the town or Bergen County and its people.

Money talks - and everyone else walks. In Edgewater, like Englewood, it is the developers' money that paves the way for outsiders and people with no interest in Edgewater to control the town.

Opposition to The Chairman or his cohorts is not tolerated. Any loyal party members who take an opposite view are labeled "dissidents" and are thrown out.

Open discussion might actually cause people to think about things, thus making meetings too long. To Joe Ferriero and his "money" men, it is his way or the highway. In Englewood, they call it Grand Avenue. And in Edgewater, we call it River Road.

Mary Hogan

Edgewater, June 6
The writer is a former Edgewater councilwoman.

spacer back
We are posting this article about Democratic politics in Englewood because it seems relevant to what is happening in Edgewater.


Englewood Democrats Blast Ferriero for Ballot Move

Thursday, June 3, 2004

ENGLEWOOD - Longtime local representatives of Bergen County's Democratic Organization say the party boss has exiled them to the boondocks of Tuesday's primary ballot for challenging his primacy.

County Chairman Joseph Ferriero replaced an unprecedented 21 of the 28 local delegates on the party line. The replaced candidates - who include former Mayor Sondra Greenberg - will be listed in Column 2, under perennial long-shot presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche. Ferriero's candidates will be listed under the presumptive nominee, John Kerry, in Column 1.

Greenberg and others say Ferriero punished them for supporting a City Council candidate who wasn't his choice last year. They also say Ferriero is still seething nearly four years after they thwarted a developer -then a client of Ferriero's legal practice - from redeveloping 60 acres near Route 4.

"This is a sign that they're taking over our city," said Greenberg, who has led voter registration drives since the 1960s and remains one of the city's most prominent Democrats. "It's being taken over by outsiders and developers and their political pals."

This is not the first time Ferriero has clashed with Englewood's outspoken Democratic Municipal Committee. Last year he overlooked the committee's chosen candidate for City Council and instead put the Rev. Vernon Walton on the party line.

It was an unusual move.

Walton, pastor of the 500-member Mount Calvary Baptist Church, was a first-time candidate and had not been registered to vote in Englewood until he decided to run. Ferriero's detractors said it was a plan to stack the council with members who would support future developments by his political cronies.

"Our City Council is basically Ferriero surrogates," said Violet Cherry, chairwoman of the municipal committee, who was left on the party line. "I guess Ferriero's seen Englewood as a thorn in his flesh. Well, I can't be bullied, I can't be bought, and I can't be bossed."

Ferriero did not return three messages left at his office and mobile phone over two days. However, Bill Maer, a spokesman for the Bergen County Democratic Organization, said Ferriero based his selections on who would be most effective for the party in the November elections.

"His concern is making sure there is a strong and vibrant Democratic Party," Maer said.

City Councilman Douglas Bern, a Ferriero ally, said he helped recruit new candidates because he is "unhappy with the status quo."

"I don't buy a grand conspiracy," Bern said. "A lot of good people want to be involved, and I would encourage everyone to participate."

The municipal committee is typically charged with organizing voter registration drives, campaigning for Democratic candidates, and helping to select candidates for local and county office.

One candidate for the Democratic committee, Ann Marie Posada, said she only considered running after Bern approached her.

She said she has since withdrawn from the race after learning of the time commitment. Her name, however, will remain in Column 1 instead of Lorraine Cohen, a veteran activist. A former school board member and co-founder of the Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, Cohen sent a letter to Democrats in her 1st Ward district pointing out her placement in Column 2.

"I have the time and energy to register new voters, distribute absentee ballots and organize the district for the November election," she wrote, adding, "I hope you will agree that I deserve your vote, regardless of what line I'm on."

Cherry said she tried several times to contact Ferriero to discuss his nominees, but that he never returned her calls.

"This is a power play to teach us a lesson and to teach other towns to not step out of line and follow orders," she said. "And if you don't, we're going to kick you out."


spacer back


Edgewater Ferry Service Remains Up in Air

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

EDGEWATER - The time frame for bringing commuter ferry service to the borough has become as murky as the Hudson River.

"There's really not much we can say at this point," said Councilwoman Neda Rose, who has supported plans for commuter service since they were formally introduced more than 2 1/2 years ago.

But Rose said she is optimistic that ferryboats will be serving customers at the borough's waterfront sooner rather than later. She said a good sign that things are moving forward is that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey next week will release its final design plans for commuter ferry service from Grand Cove Marina to New York's West 38th Street.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the Port Authority's plans at a public hearing scheduled in June. The plans, which will include feasibility reports and architectural renderings, will be available for the public to review at Borough Hall and at the public library beginning May 28.

The final plans are the culmination of years of studies overseen by the Port Authority, which has offered $7.5 million to fund the project at the intersection of River Road and Route 5.

Once the plans are presented in a public hearing, officials can begin applying for numerous permits to begin the process, including receiving the go-ahead from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The council agreed last month that it would not immediately apply for permits to dredge the marina, a permit process that experts have told the Borough Council would take at least two years.

Rose said she and other ferry supporters on the council decided to postpone the dredging process because it would further delay building the ferry landing, which officials have said could be constructed without dredging the adjacent marina. Rose explained that the project, which calls for renovating the existing marina to include a public park, would be completed in phases.

"The best-case scenario is a couple of months," Rose said of receiving permits for the ferry landing. "As soon as we can get the permits, we'll start."

But some critics of the council were concerned that dredging of the borough-owned marina should happen in a more timely fashion to ensure that the marina is preserved.

"They wanted the ferry yesterday," said Mary Hogan, a former councilwoman who has long opposed ferry service at the marina. "They decided they'll sacrifice the marina for the ferry."

Hogan favors sticking with a plan that pre-dates ferry service proposals, and would only include renovating the marina and building the public park. She said she would support a ferry at another location in the borough.


spacer back
The following article from the NY Times relates to a neighboring New Jersey town. Unfortunately, the type of conflict of interest cited in the article, bears some similarity to what we have observed in Edgewater.


New Jersey: A Town Where the Neighbors Are in Everybody's Business

March 14, 2004

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. - It all began with an attempt to tear out the row of mature 35-foot evergreen trees that shielded Peter Porrino's home here from what he felt was an unsightly commercial building nearby.

The corporation wanted to expand. Mr. Porrino, a retired home builder, objected. He eventually filed a lawsuit, and over time came to believe that the corporation and the town were conspiring against him.

Now, after two years of litigation, including lengthy depositions and much legal research, the fight over the trees, if far from over, has at minimum managed to pull back the curtain on a fact of life all but unknown to the local residents: the strikingly complex web of personal and financial ties among the political leaders of this quiet, wealthy borough of 5,400 and the corporations that line what is nicknamed the Billion Dollar Mile.

Indeed, with Mr. Porrino's once modest lawsuit set to come to trial, the cast of characters in one man's conspiracy tale has grown to include the mayor of Englewood Cliffs and his son, a bank president and his son, five members of the Borough Council and three members of the Planning Board.

Mr. Porrino, for instance, has discovered that the lawyer for the corporation that is his neighbor - Unilever Bestfoods - has also served as a lawyer for the town's mayor, and that both men were officers of a local bank. The president of that bank, meanwhile, has a son who serves as the lawyer for the Planning Board that Mr. Porrino is so suspicious of. And on it goes.

To Mr. Porrino, all the connections add up to mischief. To the town leaders and the business officials, Mr. Porrino's suspicions are baseless, almost comical. It may, in the end, simply be the way a small town - one full of lawyersand executives - works.

But Mr. Porrino's claims have at least caught the attention of a local judge. Judge Jonathan N. Harris of Superior Court has refused to dismiss the conflict-of-interest claims brought by the Porrino family and ordered a jury trial. In ruling two weeks ago, Judge Harris, while noting that he was not issuing a finding on the lawsuit's merits, wrote, "For the life of me, I can't think of any other case that I've had, or any other example that I can try and refresh my recollection with, of a municipality where these types of ties are so interconnected."

Judge Harris said that if the claims were true, they would "more than shock the conscience."

Unilever, for its part, issued a statement saying that while it had tried to resolve the dispute with the Porrinos, it expected that a jury would find "no merit to the remaining claims in the case."

The revealing, if quirky, tale of Englewood Cliffs, a mile north of the George Washington Bridge, begins in 1982. Mr. Porrino, now 76, and his wife Nancy, 73, built a four-bedroom colonial surrounded by oaks and maples on a cul-de-sac at the end of Hollywood Avenue, the same street where he built seven or eight other houses over the years. The commercial building, then a Thomas J. Lipton tea-testing laboratory, seemed far away, its view blocked by a copse of trees.

Three years after the Porrinos moved into their new home, Lipton, a Unilever brand, sought permits to build a large addition that would bring the building within range of the Porrinos' front window. Mr. Porrino fought it, and in 1985 a settlement was approved by the Planning Board.

The agreement allowed Lipton to build the addition, but required the company to build and maintain a landscaped berm and plant eight large evergreens that would obscure the edge of the building.

"The agreement worked well," Mrs. Porrino said. In fact, in 1996, when one evergreen died, Lipton wound up replacing it.

But things began to sour for good in June 2002, when Unilever filed an application to build a loading dock and a concrete turnaround pad for its trucks.

"We lived in peace for all these years," Mrs. Porrino said.

A lawyer for Mr. Porrino complained to the Planning Board that the addition would violate the agreement that the family had struck with the company and the town, as well as local zoning regulations. The Porrinos charged that the loading dock would bring with it traffic, noise and diesel fumes.

Enter John A. Schepisi, lawyer for Unilever. Mr. Schepisi, who has rarely failed to win unanimous approval from the board for the various projects he has handled, contended that Lipton had never given up its right to expand at some point in the future.

As Mr. Schepisi made his case, he also managed to win the Council's approval for something that would be essential to the company's expansion: the town ceded a public road, also called Hollywood Avenue, to Unilever, which used it as a driveway onto its corporate campus. The road, which would serve the new loading dock, lies about 20 feet from the Porrinos' cul-de-sac.

In September 2002, the Planning Board, and then the Council, approved Unilever's application and a zoning variance. Before the vote, an audience member asked why Mr. Schepisi represented nearly every commercial property owner in Englewood Cliffs.

Mayor Joseph C. Parisi offered an explanation. He said Mr. Schepisi was "probably one of the best attorneys around," according to a transcript of the meeting.

Five days later, while the Porrinos were in Italy celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, workers for Unilever cut down five of the eight evergreen trees; the company later said that the step was necessary so it could repair leaky pipes under the berm, and that it always planned to replace the trees.

The Porrinos' son Christopher, a lawyer, got a temporary restraining order halting further work. In granting the order, the judge said that the Porrinos had " pretty strong case" that the expansion plan, coming so close to the family's home, violated the old agreements and local ordinances.

Enter E. Carter Corriston, the borough attorney. He took Unilever's side, contending that his interpretation of the local zoning regulations would allow the expansion.

And then, at a Council meeting on Dec. 18, 2002, Mr. Corriston made a somewhat startling announcement. He said that because of potential conflicts of interest, both Mayor Parisi, and his son, Councilman Joseph Parisi Jr., would recuse themselves from voting on the Porrino matters.

He explained that Mr. Schepisi had bought insurance from a company owned by the mayor.

Christopher Porrino said Mr. Corriston's announcement made him more than wonder. "Once that happened," he said, "I knew there was more fire."

On Christmas Eve, he served subpoenas for additional information on Mr. Schepisi, the insurance company and the mayor and his son.

Mr. Porrino learned that Mr. Schepisi had represented the mayor on a private matter and that Mayor Parisi and Mr. Schepisi were investors in a tiny shopping center in Branchburg, N.J., and in Babe's Taxi, once the dominant cab company in the borough and the surrounding area.

Christopher Porrino said he had also discovered not only that Mr. Schepisi and Mr. Parisi owned shares in Bridge View Bank, which was founded in 1988, but that the mayor was its chairman and Mr. Schepisi, vice chairman. The mayor's son was on the bank's advisory board.

Whatever it added up to, there was more.

The lawyer for the Planning Board, Albert L. Buzzetti, also did loan reviews for the bank, and his father, Albert F. Buzzetti, was president of Bridge View.

The younger Mr. Buzzetti, who would not comment for this article, also shares ownership of the building in which he has a law office. Among its co-owners is Mr. Schepisi, and the mayor's insurance company is a tenant.

The younger Mr. Buzzetti recused himself from the Porrino matter last December.

As the Porrinos kept digging, they determined that Bridge View, a small local bank, was all but filled with town officials. A Planning Board member, Frank Sorrentino III, was on the bank's advisory board. And four of the seven Council members owned shares in the bank.

In an interview, Mr. Corriston, the borough lawyer, said he long ago ruled that their holdings were not substantial and therefore did not require them to recuse themselves from any matters brought by Mr. Schepisi.

A year ago, Interchange Bank acquired Bridge View in an $85 million deal that put the value of Mr. Schepisi's stock at roughly $5.3 million and Mr. Parisi's at $3.5 million. The two men are now directors of Interchange, while the older Mr. Buzzetti is an executive vice president.

Mr. Parisi did not return calls requesting comment. Mr. Schepisi acknowledged the various personal and business ties, but said there was a fatal flaw to the Porrinos' conspiracy theory that officials colluded to favor Unilever: Mayor Parisi did not vote on the application to expand and did not know about it until after it was voted on by the Planning Board.

But the mayor's son did vote on the matter before he recused himself.

Mr. Schepisi, who has received unanimous approval every time he has appeared before the Planning Board in the past five years, also rejected the assertion by the Porrinos that his record before the board was evidence that he had an inside track.

He acknowledged he had a winning record, but bristled at the implication that it was the result of any undue influence.

"I'm known to be a very good zoning attorney," he said. "I can truthfully say that in 30 years of practice I've only had two applications denied in the entire state of New Jersey."

But there was one final discovery that the Porrinos said removed all of their remaining doubts.

Christopher Porrino said he learned late last year that around the time Unilever applied for Planning Board approvals in 2002, the company's credit union deposited close to $3 million at Bridge View Bank.

Judge Harris took note of the deposit in one of his rulings.

Mr. Schepisi said he had sought Unilever's bank business more than 10 years ago. "Just coincidentally," he said, an executive from Unilever called in 2002, saying the credit union was unhappy with its treatment at its current bank.

For the time being, Unilever has withdrawn its application for the loading dock expansion. But on Monday, the Council is scheduled to vote on yet another attempt to clarify how close Unilever can build to the Porrinos.

Most of this dispute has unfolded without a lot of public clamor. But that, too, could change.

The Porrinos' lawsuit against the mayor and others is headed for trial on May 17.

"I never dreamt it would go on this long or that it would go to trial," Peter Porrino said. "But it looks like that's where we're heading."

During the reporting for this article, the writer discovered that a relative of his had a professional relationship at one time with John A. Schepisi, the lawyer for Unilever. That relationship ended at least 13 years ago.

spacer back


When Job, Council Collide

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

EDGEWATER - Since running for Borough Council in 2002, Lois Fein has not changed her mind about making sure ferry service becomes a reality in her community.

But she has changed careers.

Fein's dual role as a real estate sales associate and pro-ferry councilwoman has drawn fire because she sent a mailing seeking real estate listings to residents of Admiral's Walk, a condominium complex that's adjacent to a proposed commuter ferry landing.

Critics contend that the mailing poses a conflict of interest and raises ethical questions over whether Fein is prospering professionally as a result of her influence on the council, which has oversight on plans for a ferry. Fein and her supporters defended the mailing, calling the accusations yet another political attack in an overly heated ferry debate.

"This is ridiculous," Fein said at a Borough Council meeting Monday, where some residents brought up the issue during the public comment session. "I have not done anything unethical. Never have, never will."

Fein, who also lives in Admiral's Walk, earned her real estate license last year after working in commercial art sales and computer consulting.

In the mailing dated Nov. 10, Fein wrote to her neighbors seeking sellers who are interested in listing their units. The letter explains that there are good reasons to think about selling this year, citing ferry service as one of the reasons why.

"Commuter ferry [service] to New York City is in the process of becoming a reality in Edgewater," the mailing says. "The most likely location is adjacent to our south building at the Grand Cove Marina. Imagine advertising: 'Walk to ferry - 20 minutes to NYC.'"

The letter was co-signed by John Schwartz, Fein's husband and a fellow sales associate for Friedberg Properties and Associates, which has offices in Cresskill, Haworth, Englewood Cliffs, and Tenafly. The letter is written on Friedberg stationery and makes no mention of Fein's position as a councilwoman.

Former Councilwoman Mary Hogan brought the mailing to the council's attention last month, seeking an opinion on whether Fein should be voting on ferry matters. Borough Attorney Robert Regan said the council doesn't have the authority to determine whether Fein has a conflict of interest.

Regan said the state Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board makes rulings on such matters if a complaint is filed. But he added that his interpretation of the state's Local Government Ethics Law was that Fein had a right to send out the mailing.

Hogan said Fein has a right to sell real estate, but she contended Fein should recuse herself from voting on issues pertaining to the ferry.

"I'm not saying she's a bad person," Hogan said. "I'm just saying she can't vote on it."

Councilman Dale Ludwig, who ran for office with Fein, said he wants the council to meet with a representative from the Department of Community Affairs to go over what constitutes a conflict of interest. Ludwig said he thinks that opponents of the ferry are using the "conflict of interest" claim as a way to stop the ferry and practice "politics of personal destruction."

"I think the position that was raised about Lois is a stretch," Ludwig said. "The people bringing this up are against the ferry, and they don't want her to vote."

The Borough Council is moving forward with plans to put a ferry at the Grand Cove Marina, but those plans are not final.

Fein, who has voted in favor of ferries at the marina, said she supports the spot because residents voted in favor of it during a referendum in November. Fein said Monday that if an engineer says the site is not feasible, she would not push the location.

Hogan often clashed with Fein's positions regarding the ferry, among other issues, while on the council last year. But Hogan said this latest issue wasn't about politics, it was about ethics.

"What you do in the business world is totally different than what you do as an elected official," Hogan said in an interview. "She just doesn't get that."


spacer back
The following Bergen Record article is about the law firm of DeCotis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler. It is the same law firm that has recently been chosen by Edgewater's Borough Council to Represent the Town on the Marina and the Ferry.


Pay to Play Helps Sink Appointment

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

DEMAREST - The Borough Council refused to appoint the mayor's choice for borough attorney, in part because of concerns over pay to play.

Mayor Jim Carroll had planned to appoint Catherine E. Tamasik of the law firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler, but the council voted, 4-2, against the appointment during a meeting Monday.

Council President Raymond Cywinski, who voted no, said he felt the borough needed a change, in part because of recent articles in The Record that showed the Teaneck-based firm had made more than $2.5 million in contributions to New Jersey politicians during the past five years. The firm has also received nearly $26.6 million in no-bid legal work. The practice has been dubbed pay to play because the contributions often result in government contracts.

The Decotiis firm has worked for the borough more than 20 years. Since 1999, the firm has contributed $1,550 to Democratic campaigns in town - $1,000 of which went to Carroll's council and mayoral campaigns in 1999 and 2002, according to election records. It also has given $1,500 to Republican campaigns in the borough.

"We started doing some research and looking at other alternatives and we think maybe it's time to take the lead here and go elsewhere,'' said Cywinski, a Republican.

After the vote, Carroll said that he would submit another name.

"I can't emphasize how disappointed I am that they wouldn't approve this attorney that has been with the borough for years,'' he said. "My biggest fear is what it will cost the community to bring a new attorney on and to review everything that is pending."

Carroll, who is also a county freeholder, said he hoped the move "wasn't political," but many of his supporters cried foul at Monday night's meeting.

However, Councilwoman Anita Gatto, who is a Democrat, sided with the Republicans on rejecting the Tamasik appointment.

The rejection of the borough attorney was among several municipal appointments the evenly split Borough Council had been bickering about for weeks. Carroll had planned to make the appointments during the borough's reorganization meeting this month. But the Republicans, who held a majority of the votes that night because Gatto was absent, pulled the appointments off the agenda.

On Monday, the council resumed the battle, with everyone in attendance, including Democratic Councilman Tom Connolly, who recently underwent surgery, and Republican Councilwoman Carole Cardinale, who is on vacation in St. Martin. Cardinale listened to the meeting and cast her votes via telephone.

Among those whose jobs needed to be confirmed were Douglas Baker, the fire code official, who has held the post for more than 20 years, and Ed Rossi, the zoning official. The council approved Baker's appointment unanimously, while Rossi's passed, 4-3, with Carroll casting the deciding vote.

The appointment of Mike Clarke, chairman of the Board of Adjustment, followed several comments from residents in his support. Clarke has served on the board for 18 years.

"This man is putting the town before everything else,'' said Edwin Barber, a Board of Adjustment member.

But Cywinski and Republican Councilman Anthony Costanzo said they opposed Clarke's appointment, arguing that the Board of Adjustment has given too many variances and that residents have complained that the character of the town is changing.

"I'm opposed to the magnitude of some of the variances,'' Cywinski said. "Houses are growing beyond the envelope they are allowed to go."

Republicans abstained on the hiring, because it was grouped with the appointment of David McLain, another member of the Board of Adjustment. Democrats voted in favor of both appointments, leading Carroll to once again cast the deciding vote.

"These are quality people and I'm glad they are on board,'' Carroll said. "It would have been an absolute shame to have lost any of them."

Staff Writer Shannon D. Harrington contributed to this article.

spacer back


County Says Developer is to Blame for Mudslide

Thursday, September 11, 2003

EDGEWATER - Bergen County officials have blamed developer Fred Daibes for all the damage last month from a ruptured pipeline that sent a torrent of water through his cliffside construction site, washing mud and debris throughout the town's Shadyside neighborhood.

In a letter to Daibes, Bergen County Director of Public Works Paul Juliano told him that the county "holds the developer completely responsible for all damages on and off the county road due to your alteration of the county drains."

The county demanded that he pay for repairs. No amount was specified, but Daibes estimated the cost at $300,000.

The Aug. 13 letter, which was received by Borough Hall on Monday, states that the "events of the Aug. 4 week have brought to light a plethora of problems" having to do with Daibes' "unauthorized" removal of a county drain.

The pipeline, which carries stormwater from neighboring Cliffside Park to the Hudson River, ruptured during heavy rains. A second storm during the same week made matters worse for business and property owners, spilling more mud into stores.

Daibes, who is developing a 20-story apartment tower on the cliffs off Gorge Road in the town's southern edge, said he totally disagrees with the county letter. He said the county only sent the letter to protect itself.

"It's a county line that broke," Daibes said. "I have nothing to do with the county drainage system. They had a problem with the system well before we came along."

Daibes said he did not relocate the county drain as the letter implies.

But Daibes said he is working with the county "amicably" to figure out a solution. He said he is willing to pay for repairs to the damaged pipeline.

Juliano could not be reached for comment.

Copies of Juliano's letter were officially received by council members on Monday. Councilwoman Neda Rose had defended Daibes after the mudslide, saying that Shadyside has had flooding problems for years. Rose said as far as she was concerned, Daibes was cooperating with the county.

On Wednesday, Rose said she had not been to Borough Hall this week and had not received the letter.

Councilman Denis Gallagher, who has been critical of overdevelopment, said the borough has to work harder to make sure that developers follow proper codes and procedures.

In the meantime, business and property owners were left wondering who if anyone would help them recover thousands of dollars' worth of damage.

Antonia Vene, who owns Noni's Gourmet and Bistro, said her business sustained $40,000 worth of damage, including the loss of two refrigeration cases worth a total of $17,000. Vene said she was never told by her landlord that her business was in a flood zone. She did not have flood insurance.

"I think once they determine whoever is responsible, they should do the right thing," Vene said. "These businesses cannot afford these kinds of losses."


spacer back


Marina Owners, Boaters Blame Ferries for Damage

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Yacht owners and marina operators along the Hudson are complaining that wakes from commuter ferries rushing across the river are battering their docks.

The New York City vistas from the Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in Weehawken are a boat owner's dream. But this picture is far from perfect.

The rocking of the marina's docks begins each weekday morning. It's accompanied at first by a low rumble as the docks' steel bolts and hinges are being scraped against each other above the rolling Hudson River. Within minutes, the noise becomes a thunderous shriek of metal against metal.

Even if there's hardly a breeze in the air and the current is calm, the boats - some of them yachts more than 100 feet long - bounce in agitation as their lines strain to hold them steady in their slips.

The culprit, according to boat owners and marina operators all along North Jersey's waterfront, is the steady stream of wakes created by NY Waterway's commuter ferries as they motor regularly between the company's Port Imperial hub and points in Manhattan.

The resulting racket is enough to make even the most experienced captains go weak in their sea legs.

"Everybody walks down the dock like a drunken sailor," said John Schneider, a retired engineer who has made his 50-foot motor yacht, "Simba," a temporary home after selling his house in Paramus last week.

But the problem goes beyond noise and uncertain footing, boat owners and marina operators say. Vessels and docks alike take a beating from the wakes, they say.

On Simba's starboard side, a metal cleat for securing lines can no longer be used because it has become loose from wear. Though the small part for his boat's graphite body costs only about $45, Schneider said, the boat would have to be brought into dry dock to have the part installed. He estimates the cost would be upward of $700.

"It's like a millpond in here on the weekend," Schneider said. "During the week from 6 in the morning to 10:30 at night we have constant rocking and rolling."

Wakes got worse after the Sept. 11 terror attack, when NY Waterway increased its fleet to 50 and started running more trips across the Hudson. At the time, the federal government directed the company to help make up for the loss of the World Trade Center PATH station, which was destroyed in the attack. Ridership since the attack has increased from 33,000 trips a day to more than 60,000, said Pat Smith, a spokesman for NY Waterway.

Smith acknowledged that the increase in ferry traffic is causing more wakes, but he argues that the public good the company provides outweighs any negatives. On Sept. 11, NY Waterway evacuated more than 160,000 people from Manhattan. Last week, during the Northeast's widespread power failure, the company's ferries helped 200,000 people leave the city.

"That's an outstanding example of the public advantages the ferry provides," Smith said Tuesday of NY Waterway's emerging role in the metropolitan area's emergency response plans.

Part of the problem, he said, is the marinas themselves.

"You are talking about marinas that were built next to ferry terminals and then somehow claiming to be the victims of the ferry terminals," Smith said. "That's a hard concept to deal with. NY Waterway is working very hard to deal with it."

At Edgewater's Grand Cove Marina, however, the scenario is quite different.

The Borough Council acquired the 100-slip facility in June to preserve a working marina while creating public recreational space for the town.

In recent months some members of the Borough Council have moved to bring commuter ferry service to the marina. This concerns some, including Edgewater resident Mike Ferber, who keeps his 43-foot sailboat, "Puffin," at Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club and has seen the damage ferry wakes have caused there.

Ferber said that without steps such as installing sea walls to block the wakes, the marina and ferry landing could have a hard time co-existing.

"Many people have come close to falling into the water," said Ferber, regarding the near constant shifting of the docks. "It's not a pleasant situation." Ferber, who owns his boat slip, said he has paid $2,500 to help repair wake damage to the docks.

Smith said that of the 38 boats the NY Waterway owns, 20 are designed as low-wake vessels.

But an additional 12 boats - fishing and whaling vessels that the company has been chartering for a year and a half to move commuters - tend to generate more wakes than the boats the company owns, he added.

"Those are our biggest problem," Smith said, regarding the chartered boats. "We didn't design those boats."

NY Waterway plans to start phasing out the chartered boats in the fall when the World Trade Center PATH Station is slated to reopen, Smith said.

The company also has spent a lot of money to make sure its vessels are safe, including the installation of global positioning systems that alert captains to wake-sensitive areas, Smith said.

For Steven Israel, owner and president of Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club, relief can't come soon enough.

Israel said the damage from wakes has forced him to make costly repairs to his 250 slips and docks located less than a mile south of NY Waterway's Port Imperial ferry terminal. Israel said the yacht club has spent $600,000 to repair and improve a sea wall that helps protect the marina and its tenants.

Israel said he's talked to NY Waterway officials about reducing wakes by sailing at slower speeds, but the company gives him only lip service.

"Verbally they're very nice," Israel said. "Action is minimal."

Israel said the renovated sea wall isn't enough to protect his marina from wakes because environmental laws prevent sea walls from being built down to the river's floor. The lack of protection has cost him tenants. In the past year, 55 tenants have moved to other marinas, seeking shelter from the noise and constant movement of the docks.

Transient boaters - those who rent slips for a short stay - often end up canceling their reservations at Israel's marina after they spend one night and discover how bad the wakes can get.

Joe and Lisa Taylor of Baltimore piloted their 48-foot motor yacht, "Still Kid'n" to Lincoln Harbor on Monday to spend the week on their boat while taking in the sights in New York City by day. On Tuesday after watching milk lap from their two children's cereal bowls and filling their coffee mugs halfway to prevent spills, the couple decided to look for other accommodations.

"We're visiting and we're not going to stay here long," Joe Taylor said while watching the docks bob during the Hudson's morning rush hour. "I don't know how anyone keeps their boat here. It would drive me crazy."

The couple said they planned to look into staying at Liberty Landing, a Jersey City marina that sits within the Morris Canal off the Hudson River. Because of its sheltered location, Liberty Landing doesn't experience the extreme wakes that other marinas endure.

Liberty Landing has a yearlong waiting list, including many Hudson River boaters in search of calmer waters. But dock master Edward Cieslak of the Jersey City marina said his facility's 520 slips and docks aren't completely immune from the aftershocks of ferry wakes. He said a nearby NY Waterway ferry stop at Liberty Harbor has caused problems.

"We don't take a beating like the other marinas do," Cieslak said. "But once in awhile, you have to yell at them and tell them to slow down."

Cieslak said the wakes from the ferry caused nearly $100,000 in damage to a steel piling at the marina's dock.

"There are no traffic lanes, no traffic lights," he added. "They can go as fast as they want."

Chief Dave French, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said the navigation rules in New York Harbor are up to the discretion of the "master of the vessel" to determine what is an acceptable wake. Boats may travel "as fast as the conditions permit."

French said he did not know of any violations committed by NY Waterway.

"We're certainly satisfied that they are in compliance with our safety regulations," French said.


spacer back


County Questions Edgewater Ferry Plan

Friday, July 18, 2003

EDGEWATER - A $2 million grant from Bergen County has helped the borough protect the Grand Cove Marina from development. But county leaders aren't so sure they want the money from the Open Space Trust Fund to help create commuter ferry service there, too.

If the Borough Council wants to bring ferries to the marina, it will first have to clear it with the Open Space Trust Fund Committee, which doles out the grant money with approval of the Bergen County freeholders, said Matt McHale, deputy chief of staff for County Executive Dennis McNerney.

McHale said Edgewater's application for the grant money made no mention of using the site for ferry service, and that therefore the borough will have to resubmit a new proposal to the committee.

"They are deviating from the original usage of the property," McHale said, adding that it's not unusual for towns to have to come back before the commission to update their plans.

Freeholder Richard Mola said Thursday that he doesn't want the grant money to be used toward ferry service until the county executive's staff determines whether the town broke its promise that it would create a recreational area at the River Road marina.

He said he wouldn't have voted to approve Edgewater's grant had there been a mention of creating commuter ferry service there.

"I had no idea it was going to be a ferry at all," Mola said of plans the borough presented to the county's Open Space Committee when it applied for the grant money last year. "It was to be for public use, not Port Authority use."

The borough has been working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for at least two years to bring commuter ferry service to the waterfront. So far, the agency has promised to give the borough $7.5 million to make it happen.

While as many as five sites in the borough have been considered for possible ferry landings, the Grand Cove Marina has recently moved to the top of the list.

"They should have told us that in the beginning," that the Port Authority was interested, Mola said.

The freeholders voted 6-0 in favor of giving funds to the town from the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund a year ago after Borough Council members voted unanimously not to support ferry service at the marina.

The Borough Council's majority has since taken a different stance, with four of its six members favoring ferry service at the marina. The mayor and the four council members favor putting ferry service there because the infrastructure already exists to accommodate a ferry.

Councilman Dale Ludwig said he believes a ferry can coexist with open space and marina operations.

"My instincts tell me that it can be all things to all people," Ludwig said of the marina. "If the freeholders need more details, let's get it on the table and talk it out."

Councilwoman Mary Hogan said the council will break a promise with residents if it allows ferryboats to dock at the marina because residents voted in a referendum to condemn the site to preserve it as open space. She is concerned that the town may lose the marina if it has to give the $2 million grant back to the county.

"I just hope we don't lose the marina because people want to put a ferry site there, especially since there are other sites available," Hogan said.

McHale said one compromise would be for the Port Authority to reimburse the Open Space Trust Fund.


spacer back


Mayor Sells Stock To End Questions

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

EDGEWATER - After drawing fire for one of his financial investments, Mayor Bryan Christiansen said he has sold his shares of stock in a local bank to assure the public that he does not have a conflict of interest.

Christiansen, who is running for Assembly from the 38th District, said at a Borough Council meeting Monday that he sold his stocks in Mariner's Bank to avoid further debate on the question of ethics raised by his political opponents.

"I've divested myself of any interest - might I add at a loss," Christiansen said of the 800 shares that were in his name and in his wife's name.

The mayor's opponents have criticized his financial stake in the bank because its majority shareholder is developer Fred Daibes, whose Edgewater-based Daibes Enterprises has played a crucial role in the borough's real estate boom over the past two decades.

Christiansen was one of three Planning Board members who became shareholders in Mariner's when the bank opened in the borough two years ago. A fourth member, construction code official John Candelmo, does not own shares in the bank, but his wife does.

First reported in April

The financial relationship between the Planning Board members and Daibes was reported in April in an article published in The Record. Since then, some residents have voiced concern to Christiansen over his shares of stock because Daibes's projects are frequently before the Planning Board for approvals.

As he has in the past, Christiansen on Monday maintained that he does not believe he had a conflict of interest by purchasing stock in Mariner's. He looked at the investment as a sign of support in a local business.

"I don't believe from the beginning that I had a conflict," Christiansen said. "Am I supposed to know what stocks everyone owns who comes before the board? If I own AT&T and they own AT&T, do we have a conflict?"

While Christiansen has voted in favor of some of Daibes construction projects, he contended that he has never taken a vote on projects related to Mariner's Bank.

Daibes, who owns 67 percent of the bank's shares, said Tuesday that he was disappointed that Christiansen decided to sell his stock. Christiansen originally purchased his shares at $10 each. He sold them for $8 each, Daibes said. Christiansen, who is leaving the mayor's office in January, owned less than 1 percent of the bank's shares.

Daibes said he offered to buy the stock from Christiansen, but the mayor declined. Christiansen, when asked by Councilman Denis Gallagher, would not disclose who he sold his shares to beyond saying that it was not to any immediate members of his family.

Daibes said he believed politics ultimately forced the Democrat Christiansen to divest in the company.

"He didn't want it being made into a political issue," said Daibes, who has known Christiansen from the time they were in Boy Scouts together.

Gallagher, who is an independent, said the issue is not political, but merely a matter of being able to trust elected officials. Gallagher said he would like to see documentation from Christiansen to prove he is telling the truth.

"The details of the transactions might put some of the concerns to rest," Gallagher said on Tuesday. "He's given us no detail."

Gallagher said he will ask the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton, which oversees municipalities and reviews ethical issues on local governing bodies, to offer an opinion on the Christiansen matter.

"Sooner or later, I believe Bryan is going to be supplying this information to some sort of official body," Gallagher said. "He owes an explanation to the town."

spacer back

Planner's Spouse Defends Work With Developer

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

EDGEWATER - The husband of Councilwoman and Planning Board member Lois Fein defended his position Tuesday as a rental agent for a luxury apartment building in Cresskill owned by Edgewater-based developer Fred Daibes.

John Schwartz railed against critics at a Borough Council meeting, saying that by accusing his wife of having a conflict of interest, they were going after his livelihood, and that he wasn't going to stay quiet.

"There was nothing, and I repeat nothing, underhanded about this deal," Schwartz said, reading from a statement. "There is a sign on the property with my name that did not have to be there if I or Lois was trying to hide anything."

Schwartz, a real estate agent for Friedberg Properties in Englewood Cliffs, served as the listing agent for 23 of 75 units in a luxury apartment building in Cresskill owned by Daibes.

Daibes, whose Daibes Enterprises has transformed Edgewater's waterfront during the past two decades, frequently comes before the Planning Board for approvals. Fein, who has voted in favor of Daibes projects in the past, said she does not have a conflict of interest.

Councilwoman Mary Hogan said she is concerned not only about Fein's position on the Planning Board, but also because Fein serves as the president of AHOME, a not-for-profit housing group in town. Fein and the group are trying to create affordable condominiums for low- and middle-income families to buy.

The group has been considering two older buildings that Daibes owns on Undercliff Avenue. The developer has said he would give the buildings to AHOME if the transfer donation would satisfy his affordable housing obligation under the town's Mount Laurel housing plan. If the units don't count toward his obligation, Daibes has said he would fulfill it by giving nearby Fairview money to create affordable housing there.

Hogan said Fein should not vote on any matters involving Daibes now that she is aware that Fein's husband is a listing agent for the developer. On Monday, Valory Bardinas, who is running for council on a ticket with Hogan, complained to the Borough Council about the matter.

Citing state ethics laws, Bardinas said Fein and Schwartz had a conflict of interest because they are married, and that elected leaders cannot have financial relationships with people who come before the boards.

Schwartz said that he's earned about $12,000 from Daibes' building in Cresskill, receiving 25 percent of the average $2,000 rental fee or $500 per apartment. Schwartz, who recently became a real estate agent, said he approached Daibes and asked if he could serve as the listing agent because he wanted to gain experience.

"I would hope that Fred gave me the business, not because I'm Lois' husband, but because I know how to rent his apartments," Schwartz said, adding that in a small town, such as Edgewater, residents do business with people they know.

Fein, a Democrat, said she thought the criticism was entirely political. She said she fears her political opponents are striking out because they have differed on issues such as how the town should fulfill its affordable-housing requirements mandated by the state.

"I gain nothing out of being on AHOME," said Fein, who volunteers her time.

Daibes, who in recent months has been at the center of a few political spats, denied he was trying to buy a vote through Fein's husband.

Daibes, saying he did not want to get in the middle of a political battle among Borough Council members, said if he had to, he would cut his ties with Schwartz.

"I can't believe this is being brought up," Daibes said.

Laura Fasbach's e-mail address is

spacer back


Heroes and Zeros

Friday, April 25, 2003

FROM TIME to time, The Record points out citizens, agencies, and public officials who merit acclaim or disdain. Nominations from readers are welcome.

Thumbs down to four members of the Edgewater Planning Board who have a financial stake in a local bank owned by the borough's most prominent developer. The members, who include the mayor, should not be voting on projects when they have a financial relationship with the developer. While the amount they have invested in the bank is relatively small, officials should avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

spacer back


Town Officials Have Stake In Local Developer's Bank

Thursday, April 17, 2003
Staff Writer

EDGEWATER - Four members of the Planning Board, including the mayor and the construction code official, have a financial stake in a local bank that is owned by the borough's most prominent developer, bank documents show.

Mayor Bryan Christiansen and fellow Planning Board members Jeff Mathieu and Joseph Kerwin are among the 87 original shareholders in Mariner's Bank. A fourth member, construction code official John Candelmo, does not own shares in the bank, but his wife does.

None of the four are major shareholders in the bank, which opened across the street from Borough Hall two years ago. But critics of the board members' ties to the developer, Fred Daibes, say that even their small stake in the bank could influence their votes on his projects.

"If they have a financial relationship with a person coming before the board, they should not be voting," Councilwoman Mary Hogan said.

Daibes, who owns the majority of the bank's shares and serves as its chairman, has been no stranger to the Planning Board over the years. His company, Daibes Enterprises, has played a crucial role in transforming this former factory town into a tony riverfront community by building many of the apartment towers, town houses, and shops that sit on River Road.

For Daibes, 44, opening the doors of Mariner's Bank in the spring of 2001 was just one more contribution he said he was proud to make to a town where he has lived most of his life. Reaching out to politicians and the politically connected to invest as shareholders was a calculated move, he said, to ensure his bank's success.

"If a mayor of the town does not endorse a community bank, it doesn't say much for that bank," said Daibes, who owns 67 percent of the bank's shares. "If you look at local banks, nine out of 10 times you're going to find the local politicians bought stock in it."

But in close-knit Edgewater, a town that is 3.2 miles long with a population of 7,500, some say a Planning Board in which four of 11 members are shareholders in a bank owned by a key local developer is unacceptable. They cite Daibes' wide business interests in borough real estate.

"All of that would be fine if he just owned the bank," Hogan said. "Fred's problem is he owns so many other things in town and that's where you may run into a conflict with him.'' E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which oversees municipalities, said he cannot comment on situations such as Edgewater's that may come before his agency for review.

Under the state's code of ethics for local officials, elected leaders, borough employees, and appointed members of government boards are not required to disclose their own investments or their spouse's investments unless those interests are worth at least 10 percent of a company.

None of the Planning Board members own 10 percent of Mariner's Bank stock. Even combined, the four members' shares, including shares held by their wives, are worth just 3 percent of Mariner's total shares, according to the bank's shareholders list.

According to the list: Christiansen and his wife, Carol, own 800 shares, including those that are held in his mother's name for the benefit of his wife. Candelmo's wife, Laurette, owns 1,750 shares in her name. Jeff Mathieu, who is employed by Daibes, owns 1,980 shares with his wife, Margaret. Joseph Kerwin, who sits on the Mariner's Bank board of directors, owns 14,000 shares.

The bank's 2002 annual report shows that the 87 original shareholders purchased stock in the privately held bank for $10 a share at the initial offering. The stock's current value is $6.75 a share. Combined, the Planning Board members own $125,077 worth of stock in Mariner's.

"It's minutiae," said Christiansen when asked about his total shares, valued at about $5,400. "I own so little."

Daibes, who says he has known Christiansen since they were in Boy Scouts together, pointed out that the shareholders have yet to collect dividends and that the shares' value has declined since they were first purchased.

"If the logic is that they are going to like me if they make money, does that mean if they lose money, they are going to vote against me?" Daibes said.

To some, however, the monetary value of the stocks wasn't the point.

Susan Jester, past president of the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater, a political watchdog group, said the scenario of the Planning Board members holding any stocks in a major developer's bank doesn't pass the "sniff test."

"Even though it may not be illegal, certainly it calls into question the ethics of the relationship," Jester said.

spacer back

From the Bergen Record

Drop-off Ferry Site Could Aid Edgewater

Tuesday, April 1, 2003
Staff Writer

EDGEWATER - Launching ferry service from the borough could reduce traffic on River Road by at least 300 cars at peak commuting times as long as parking isn't provided at the ferry terminals, according to a new study by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In the discussion about running commuter ferry service between the borough's waterfront and Manhattan, supporters such as Mayor Bryan Christiansen and others have said all along that not having parking would be the key to its success.

Shuttle buses and mass transit will play an important role in delivering passengers to any ferry terminal, the supporters say, and the study agreed.

In addition to passengers getting dropped off at ferry terminals, Council President Neda Rose said, part of the plan is to pick a location that would allow residents to walk to the terminals as well.

"If we don't do anything, the road is just going to get more congested if we don't give people an option," Rose said. "This is an option, and a pleasant one."

A meeting will be held on April 15 at 7 p.m. at the Community Center for questions and comments on the $180,000 traffic study.

The study was funded by the Port Authority at the mayor's request and conducted by the Rochelle Park-based Vollmer Associates. The study examined five potential sites for ferry service along the riverfront. A citizens advisory committee released a report in August that endorsed ferry service in Edgewater and picked the potential locations.

The sites the committee proposed are Grand Cove Marina and the Von Dohln Marina in the north of town; the Binghamton Plaza shopping strip in the center of town; and the Edgewater Commons shopping center and The Promenade apartment and retail complex in the south.

The traffic impact study said that the Von Dohln Marina site would have a negative impact on traffic because it is located at the bottom of a steep incline that leads from River Road to the site. The study also points out that River Road would have to be widened near the Von Dohln Marina because it is only two lanes there.

The study said some reconfiguring would have to be done at Grand Cove Marina to provide an adequate space for dropping off and picking up ferry passengers by car.

The Binghamton Plaza was credited with having a central location and enough room for cars to drop off and pick up passengers.

Edgewater Commons, which houses Target, Old Navy, Pathmark, and Barnes & Noble stores, would work as a ferry terminal Monday through Friday. But the study noted that on Saturday, a peak shopping day, the intersection into the commons would "operate at unacceptable levels of service with the ferry service traffic included."

Councilwoman Mary Hogan said she is also concerned that placing a ferry terminal at Edgewater Commons could attract people who would park in the shopping center's lot. She said it would be difficult to monitor who was shopping and who was parking to commute into Manhattan.

"It would be a burden on the complex," Hogan said. "Who's going to enforce it? Certainly the town isn't going to patrol it."

Laura Fasbach's e-mail address is

spacer back

From the Bergen Record

EPA Approves Road Over Superfund Site

Sunday, March 30, 2003
Staff Writer

EDGEWATER - The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to let a developer build a road over a portion of a Superfund site on the condition that the road be removed if necessary to decontaminate the area.

Gene Heller, whose City Living apartments and stores are scheduled to open in June, has agreed to remove the road after it is built if the EPA decides that it's in the way of future cleanup efforts.

Heller's project at 225 River Road is just north of the PCB-contaminated Quanta Resources site, a 16-acre tract that was added to the EPA's Superfund list of hazardous waste sites in September. The designation makes the Quanta site eligible for millions of dollars to clean it up.

The state government shut down the waste oil recycling plant in 1981 when its storage tanks were found to contain large quantities of waste oils contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

From 1984 to 1988, the EPA supervised a series of actions to clean and decontaminate the tanks and remove some underground piping and soil that contained coal tar, but samples collected by the agency in 1992 showed that hazardous substances remained at the site.

Heller purchased the neighboring 53-acre site where the Celotex Industrial Park used to be for $13 million in 1998. The state Department of Environmental Protection approved building permits for Heller after his company paid to clean up the arsenic-tainted soil.

The borough condemned a portion of the Quanta site before it received Superfund status and granted Heller an easement to build what he says will be the major entrance into the City Living complex.

The 18,000-square-foot road, which Heller hopes to start building in a month, will allow access from River Road into the 331-unit development until the EPA completes its environmental study of the Quanta Site.

John Prince, the EPA's chief of central New Jersey's remediation section, said a study probably would be completed in 18 months. The actual cleanup could take three to five years or more.

Prince said that Heller may eventually have to find an alternative to the road.

"He's going to have to figure out how to get people in and out of there," Prince said. He added that cleanup could be done around the road and that a second, temporary road could be constructed to carry traffic.

Gil Hawkins of the New York and New Jersey Hudson River Fishermen's Association said his group is concerned about road construction on a Superfund site because of its proximity to the river. Hawkins said his group would prefer having an environmental study performed before any construction takes place.

"It just doesn't make sense when you are trying to protect the river," he said.

Laura Fasbach's e-mail address is

spacer back


$100,000 Donated by Banker to Campaigns Under Scrutiny

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Staff Writers

A prominent North Jersey developer has given more than $100,000 to New Jersey politicians in the three years since he opened a bank in Edgewater, raising questions about whether he violated a state law forbidding campaign contributions by the majority owner of a bank.

Campaign finance records show that Fred Daibes and entities controlled by him have contributed at least $102,000 to local and state campaigns, including donations to Governor McGreevey and the Democratic State Committee, since June 26, 2000.

That's when the state's Department of Banking and Insurance granted a charter to Daibes and his partners for Mariner's Bank in Edgewater. Daibes owns 67 percent of the stock in Mariner's Bank and is its chairman.

In New Jersey, owners of a majority of a bank's stock are barred from making any state or local campaign contributions under a statute that has been in effect since 1911.

Daibes said his attorney has advised him that he did not violate the law. Nonetheless, after The Record questioned the contributions, Daibes said he asked the state Attorney General's Office for an interpretation of the statute. He also said he would not make any further campaign contributions that could fall under the scope of the law until the attorney general makes a ruling.

"I don't want to be in a position of breaking the law," Daibes said.

Daibes said he had never heard of the law until it gained attention recently after campaign contributions to McGreevey by Florham Park developer Charles Kushner came under scrutiny because of Kushner's interests in NorCrown Bank in Livingston.

Kushner's attorneys have argued that his contributions were legal because the majority of his shares in the bank's stock were held in a family trust. With the matter under investigation by the Attorney General's Office, Kushner resigned his post on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he was on track to become chairman.

Daibes said his attorney has reached a similar conclusion, telling him that he is not in violation of the law because most of his bank stock is managed by an independent trust. Unlike Kushner, Daibes contends, he does not control his bank trust.

"I do own the majority of the bank," Daibes said. "I don't vote it."

Daibes owns Edgewater-based Daibes Enterprises, a company that helped transform the Hudson waterfront borough from a blighted factory town into a luxury bedroom community of high-rises and gated communities.

Daibes said his attorney has told him he is not in violation of the campaign contributions law because he has control of only 24.9 percent of his bank's stock. The additional 42.1 percent that Daibes owns is managed by an independent trust, an arrangement the Department of Banking and Insurance required after granting Mariner's charter.

The 44-year-old Daibes stressed that among the bank's shareholders he has minority voting power because Bridgewater-based United Trust is the voting trustee for the majority of his shares. Under the state charter agreement, the trust is required to vote with the majority of the bank's 85 shareholders, which Daibes describes as a "very close circle of friends."

"It could come down that the attorney general interprets it other than how I interpret it," Daibes said. "If it affects me, I'd like to know."

He said that if politicians are forced to return his contributions, he would donate them to charity.

When asked about whether Daibes' contributions were illegal, Chuck Davis, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, declined to comment.

"We really couldn't comment to say something is legal or illegal," Davis said. "That would be giving legal advice, and that's something we don't do for newspapers."

While suspending his contributions to state and local candidates, Daibes would still be able to contribute to politicians out of state and at the national level because the state law does not apply to them. Since June 2000 he has given $31,500 to federal campaigns.

As Daibes awaits a ruling from the attorney general, some say the law speaks for itself.

"The law says what it says and it's pretty clear," said Al Porroni, executive director and legislative counsel for the state Office of Legislative Services, a non-partisan agency that provides legal opinions to the Legislature. "Certainly a person who owns the majority of a bank can't make contributions."

Porroni said the issue in question is about ownership - not whether the majority of stocks are managed by a trust. If a person places the majority of their stocks in a trust but retains ownership, he would still be prohibited from making campaign contributions, he said.

Porroni said the law was likely passed to prevent state-regulated agencies, including banks, railroads, public utilities, and insurance companies, from influencing lawmakers' decisions that could affect their interests. A conviction under the law could bring a fine of up to $10,000.

"It's antiquated, but that doesn't mean it's not viable," Porroni said. "The law has teeth because it's a criminal statute. The question is, how do you enforce it?"

Three agencies contacted by The Record said they weren't responsible for monitoring contributions or initiating an investigation.

Ellen Lovejoy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Banking and Insurance, said it is a matter for the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Fred Herrmann, executive director of the ELEC, said his agency does not have the jurisdiction to oversee the law that prohibits majority bank owners from giving contributions. He said the matter is under the attorney general's jurisdiction.

The spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said it would not investigate such cases unless it had received a complaint.

"Write your story and then we'll go from there," said Davis, the spokesman. "There's always the possibility that we do become involved."

Proponents of campaign finance reform say the enforcement of the law is perhaps more important today because of the staggering amount of money that is spent to get politicians into office. The cost of elections has also raised the stakes in what critics call New Jersey's so-called pay-to-play system of awarding government business to campaign contributors.

"These guys are investing in politics. It's venture capital," said state Assemblyman Matt Ahearn, whose district includes Edgewater. "It is not a charitable contribution. They expect something back for it."

Ahearn, of Fair Lawn, switched his party affiliation this year from Democrat to the Green Party in part because of his dislike for campaign finance practices. He said the question of Daibes' contributions on top of the Kushner investigation should be a red flag to lawmakers that campaign-finance reform is crucial.

Some of the recipients of Daibes' contributions said they had no reason to question their legality at the time they received them.

"I didn't even know he owned a bank," said Lyndhurst Mayor James Guida, whose 2001 reelection campaign received $2,000 from Daibes, developer of a shopping center in town. "I was going around knocking on doors [during the campaign]. I didn't go around and collect the money.

"The contributions that came in - I didn't check each guy out. I was happy to get the money."

Among the biggest recipients of Daibes' cash was the Democratic State Committee, which received $26,000 since June 2000.

"We literally receive thousands of contributions, so there are times that things slip through the cracks," said Richard McGrath, a spokesman for the committee. "In this one, there really seems to be some uncertainty and questions, but we'll abide by whatever determination is made by the [attorney general]."

Daibes has given Bergen Democrats $33,500 since receiving his bank's charter.

More than half of the money - $17,600 - was given last year during the $4 million campaign of Bergen Executive Dennis McNerney.

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero said that after inquiries from The Record, he called Daibes' attorneys and was told that Daibes did not have a "controlling interest" in the bank and that the contributions were appropriate.

A spokeswoman for McNerney said the contributions had nothing to do with the $3.7 million in taxpayers' money the county deposited into Daibes' bank last month.

Though it was a small chunk of the $104 million the county had invested last month in certificates of deposit, it was the first time Bergen County has deposited money into Mariner's.

The spokeswoman, Julie Roginsky, said Mariner's offered the best interest rate among three banks called by county officials. Mariner's offered a 1.24 percent rate, while Interchange Bank offered 1.20 percent and J.P. Morgan/Chase offered 1.04 percent.

Daibes defended the county's deposit into Mariner's Bank, which at the end of 2002 held $36.6 million in deposits, according to records filed with the FDIC.

He said the deposit was a legitimate business relationship that had nothing to do with his contributions. Daibes said the county spoke only with the bank's professionals.

"Whether I made a contribution or not, I'm entitled to be on the list," Daibes said regarding the county's list of 10 banks it does business with.

spacer back
spacer Who We Are : Mission Statement & Bylaws : Membership Application : Upcoming Events
News from Record/NYTimes : Other News & Commentary : Contact Us : Home spacer