The Bayonne City Council passed an ordinance authorizing a redevelopment plan of the former Marist High School site on the city’s border with Jersey City as one official questioned whether or not the matter was under state investigation.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Attorney John Stolz, of the firm Lowenstein Sandler, represented the owner of the site 1241 John F. Kennedy Boulevard IPX LLC. He noted the NJTA had become interested in the property at the developer’s expense.
“Doing so ensures the Marist site can still be redeveloped. What’s really lost in the discussion… is that my client didn’t ask to be put in this situation,” Stolz said.
He explained that Bayonne initially wanted to redevelop the plan and approached his client.
“Our client has invested millions of dollars and remediated environmentally and cannot now redevelop it,” Stolz said.
He noted they demolished the old building and would have to maintain it and pay taxes until the NJTA took possession.
“Our client’s reputation has been somewhat harmed. They cannot keep commitments. Our client comes in … with clean hands. To have it stopped now at the very last stop in the process is at best fundamentally unfair to them. At worst, it will cause our client to lose the value of their investment,” he added
“Without the adoption of the redevelopment … our client has nothing to show,” he said.
During the public portion, resident Mike Morris has questions on what exactly the plan would entail.
“Is this area going to be used for exits and entrances to the Turnpike itself?,” he asked.
“I cannot speak to that. The city has had several meetings over the last year. The council was not privy to that. There were maps drawn up,” responded Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, a declared mayoral challenger.
“I personally would not vote in favor of the turnpike just to widen the roadway, and the area under it probably won’t be taken care of in the right way,” Morris stated, favoring a high-rise residential and commercial building in its place.
“That’s not really an option. The turnpike said they would take the land through eminent domain,” he added.
“Our understanding is the turnpike is going to do that whether we want to or not,” Nadrowski replied.
Morris said they would seize nearby row houses as well, which is not fair to residents and another reason the local developer should be preferred and Nadrowski agreed with him.
She then unexpectedly revealed that she had reason to believe there is an ongoing probe into how the city handled this matter.
“There is an ongoing investigation of the state into the city’s handling of this matter. I know that a number of city officials have been contacted by a state office and have been asked questions and told of an investigation going on,” Nadrowski questioned.
“So I’m not sure if it’s pertinent that if there’s an ongoing investigation on the city side … should we be voting on this?”
Law Director John Coffey said the law department had not been informed of any such activities.
“I’m not aware that there’s an investigation. I don’t know who was contacted, the law department was not contacted. We didn’t receive anything in writing on it,” he replied.
“Well we all received a copy of the document that was filed with them,” Nadrowski responded.
Coffey said that does not prove there’s an investigation, since it was simply an anonymous letter sent to law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Attorney General and the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller.
“I’m not aware that anything has taken place on that and I get these types of documents filed with us all the time by anonymous individuals or people who don’t leave themselves subject to the laws of the State of New Jersey filing complaints against individuals representing the municipality. I’m not aware of any investigation,” he explained.
“So, there isn’t one?” Nadrowski asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Coffey replied with a shrug.
“I was told by people that were contacted and we all received this so. I know how we don’t want to act on things that are part of an investigation. Is the city’s legal opinion that there is no investigation?,” Nadrowski questioned.
“I don’t know if there’s an investigation. An anonymous individual wrote a letter to four entities alleging things about the transaction: that’s all I know.”
He continued that the letter was signed by Frank Struthers, a name not registered in Bayonne and is actually the name of the son of an individual killed in the Charles Manson murders in the 1960s.
3rd Ward Councilman Gary La Pelusa said he wasn’t going to sit idly by and let this project fall to the wayside due to internal strife.
“The last thing I wanted to see is a piece of land sitting fallow. If you put this off, the Turnpike drags its feet, and nothing gets done … I’ve seen lots of deals fall through,” he said.
” … If the Turnpike comes in, so be it. If they do come in, I am going to really, really investigate it.”
Nadrowski was the sole no vote, allowing the measure to pass 4-1, stating that she didn’t think there was enough public comment to warrant approval at this time.
Bayonne Public Information Officer Joe Ryan told HCV that at the December meeting of the NJTA board, they expressed interest in creating an access road on the site.
“Whether that’s all there is wasn’t really clear,” he said.
Ryan noted the city is not the owner of the property. Initially, they did put a down payment on it since the Bayonne Board of Education was interested in acquiring the property.
However, they said it was too expensive to renovate due to the high cost of asbestos removal and other remediation issues. The city received its deposit back on then sought out a developer for the site, according to Ryan.