The Bloomfield Council voted 6-1 at their Monday night conference meeting to move ahead with a 5-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with Hampshire Self Storage for a storage facility to be built at 104 Orange Street.
The site, which is next to the Home Depot, is currently occupied by a vacant building that was once part of the Schering-Plough complex. The property falls into the central business district (CBD) zone, which does not include storage as an allowed use. The Zoning Board granted a use variance and approved the site plan for the project in November of 2012.
Tax Assessor Joe Pisauro explained to the council that the proposed PILOT was a 5-year phase-in of the taxes on the building. The land would continue to be taxed at its present rate. He said the township currently receives $62,000 in taxes based on the vacant building on the property. With the PILOT in place, the township would receive $675,000 over the five-year period, at which point the PILOT would end and the standard tax rate would apply. Mayor McCarthy said that in the second year of the PILOT, the township would already gain an additional $25,000 over the current tax revenue.
Councilman Bernard Hamilton voted against the PILOT agreement. He expressed reservations about the plan, saying that given the for-profit nature of the project, he did not feel a PILOT was warranted and that it offered no “tangible” benefits to the town.
During the public comment period, resident Carol Humphreys had asked that the council hold a public meeting to explain PILOT programs to the residents. Mayor McCarthy said he didn’t feel it was necessary to have a separate meeting on the subject.
However, on Tuesday, Councilman Michael Venezia announced that he is sponsoring a Community Forum on the subject, to be held on Tuesday, September 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the Bloomfield Civic Center. The purpose of the forum is to “dispel misinformation and provide the public with facts” about tax abatements/PILOTs and explain why they are used.
Renovation of Bloomfield Train Station
In other business at Monday’s meeting, Community Development Director Glenn Domenick asked for additional funding support for the renovation of the Bloomfield Train Station, which is a key element of the Center Redevelopment project. He said about $500k had already been spent on architecture and acquisition of the property, which only left $400k to do the work. He said he would need about $1 million to complete the work.
Councilman Hamilton suggested the township should procure grants to fund the project. However, Domenick said that although there are grants available, it would take another year to actually receive the money and it is important that the work begin at the same time as the rest of the Center Redevelopment is being completed to take advantage of any synergies in construction. He said if he received approval for the funding he could go out to bid within 30 days.
Councilman Joanow questioned why the developers couldn’t chip in more to fund the project. Domenick said that one of the developers had contributed $100,000 to the train station renovation, but that overall the station is best suited as a township project, as it does not offer a measurable return on investment for a developer.
In answer to a question from Councilman Venezia, Domenick said that the design for the train station renovations had received approval from the State Historic Preservation Office and also from New Jersey Transit. The station is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
The council voted unanimously to fund the project.
Local Bar Violations
Township Clerk Louise Palagano reported four local bars had ABC violations during the past month. The council agreed to send a notice of hearing to Moon Palace, whose owners had been brought before the council several times in the past due to problems at the bar. The council will ask for the establishment to be closed for up to 90 days.
The owners of Mi Pueblo, Gloria’s Bar and Clancy’s Bar will be brought in for informal hearings to discuss their violations.
The council voted to hire four new firefighters and four new police officers on a staggered basis, pending expected retirements. Three firefighters would start in September, and a fourth in November. Two police officers would be hired in September and two in November.
Several residents spoke during the public comment period regarding the recent flooding on Thomas Street and Cleveland Terrace. Township Engineer Paul Lasek addressed the issue at the request of Councilman Carlos Bernard. He said that he would work with the DPW to check the storm drains and sewers to ensure that they are not clogged with debris. However, he said that sometimes it is impossible to prevent flooding when rain comes down at a rate of 1 to 2 inches in an hour as it did in this case.
Memphis the dog and the Board of Health were on the agenda at the request of Councilman Venezia, who said he was “outraged” that the Director of Human Services had “outright lied” to the council regarding the circumstances under which Memphis was sent to South Dakota for training.
Memphis has been a source of controversy for well over a year. The stray pit bull had been brought to the Bloomfield Animal Shelter in February of 2012, and had later been deemed “unadoptable” after a behavioral evaluation conducted at St. Hubert’s in Madison. He later spent eight days undergoing training and socialization with Jeff and Diana Coltenback, owners of Paradise Pet store in Bloomfield, who are also dog trainers and pit bull rescuers. They were required to return Memphis to the shelter after it was revealed on social media that they had allowed the dog to interact with children under their supervision. The Health Department said this violated the agreement Coltenback had signed, which he denied was the case. The Coltenbacks have been trying to adopt the dog ever since.
Memphis was eventually sent to an unidentified trainer in South Dakota for rehabilitation, where he remains today. However, the Coltenbacks had signed an agreement that said once the dog was deemed adoptable, they would be allowed to adopt him.
At last week’s council meeting, the council passed a resolution that Memphis was to be returned to the Coltenbacks. However, according to a letter received from the Board of Health attorney, Ronald Ricci, the resolution will have no effect in returning Memphis to Bloomfield.
Venezia said he and Councilman Carlos Bernard intend to go to the Board of Health meeting on Thursday, September 19, 2013, to speak about the issue.
Several people spoke about Memphis and the Health Department during the public comment period. Pat Gilleran asked about the resolution that was supposed to be attached to the letter written by Ronald Ricci, turning Memphis over to the caretaker in South Dakota. Township attorney Brian Aloia said the resolution had not been attached due to a “clerical error.” However, it was sent to Township Clerk Louise Palagano late Friday afternoon and the council had it in their packets on Monday night.
The next council meeting will be a regular meeting to be held in the council chambers on Monday, September 16, 2013, at 7 p.m.