Nearly three years ago, Chatham’s Mayor & Borough Council granted a partnership led by a Kushner family company the exclusive right to submit proposals for a Borough-sponsored real estate development at Post Office Plaza.
Over the next two and a half years, Kushner and partners failed to come up with a proposal acceptable to the Borough.
Best they could offer was a hulking, 100-rental unit, commercial apartment/retail project. It would have provided 15 affordable apartments, but wiped out existing public parking, clogged up traffic on Main Street, cost taxpayers heaven-only-knows-what, and destroyed the small town charm of our Borough. Residents didn’t like it.
On January 26, 2022, our Mayor & Council let the exclusive period lapse, and began to entertain other proposals. On May 2, they voted to build a modest, 15-family, all-affordable apartment house at Post Office Plaza.
Instead of accepting that decision, on Wednesday, June 8 the Kushner partnership asked an affordable housing judge to force our Mayor & Council to accept the commercial real estate project they had just voted down.
The revised Housing Element will be up for approval at two special meetings set for the coming week, both at 7:30 pm, Borough Hall, 54 Fairmount Avenue, upper level, and virtually as indicated in the links below.
Please note that the amendment will require a special meeting of the Planning Board, because it has cancelled both May meetings.
Below is the document Jonathan Drill used to create that June 1 deadline only after he had misled Borough residents on an April 6 Zoom, falsely claiming that the Council must name and sign a developer by June 1:
24 June 2022 – 1:30 pm – Virtual Hearing on Compliance with the 14 June 2021 Agreement:
At that 24 June hearing, the Judge is expected to decide whether or not the Borough has fulfilled its obligations under the agreement of 14 June 2021 and should be allowed to retain its immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits until 1 July 2025.
For the Zoom link, contact Jonathan Drill, email@example.com, by 22 June.
For copies of the implementing documents, contact Acting Clerk Steve Williams at 973-635-0674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mayor made the right choice, as it was the smallest and best of the options presented. But those options were too limited. All five involved new construction and the sacrifice of at least some public parking. We’d be far better off using existing apartments to meet our affordable housing quotas. http://chathamchoice.org/2022/04/whats-the-rush/
Our Mayor & Council will soon have another chance to pursue that so called ”market-to-affordable” option when they enter negotiations for the fourth round of affordable housing quotas due in July 2025. We must urge and encourage them to seize that opportunity.
Please come to the Middle School at 7:30 tonight, April 25, to learn about the five proposals for the future of Post Office Plaza, which our Council will decide by vote next Monday, May 2nd.
It’s nice to have five options, thanks to our Mayor, but (for reasons our Borough experts can’t seem to explain) those options aren’t broad – or even adequate – and the Council lacks the basic information necessary to make a good choice for Chatham.
Costs, for instance: How much would it cost the Borough to support each proposal under consideration?
Good question. But you’ll find no answer in the table provided by the experts we taxpayers pay to help us:
Sure, that table estimates our ”financial obligation” as guarantor of certain projects and mentions the sacrifice of our irreplaceable public parking lot. But what’s the value of that public land we’re about to sacrifice? Based on comps, it’s worth at least $10.5 million – more than ten times the $1 million sale price shown in proposal #2.
And what about the additional, ongoing costs for schools, police, firefighting, public works, library services, parking, etc? How much would all that cost residents and taxpayers under each of the scenarios under consideration?
Far as we can discover, the Mayor & Council have never even tried to estimate those costs. (Far as we can tell, they never did so for their 259-unit apartment project under construction at River Road, either.)
Now let’s look at what the table above does reveal about the options on offer:
Option #1: Nightmare. A huge, 4-story, 118-unit apartment project to be crammed into the small plot behind the Post Office, west of little Bowers Lane. On the plus side, it would include 18 affordable family units and might generate $563,000 in annual PILOT payments, but we’d get no property taxes. This project would also bring far greater density, put at least 200 more cars on Main Street, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a little paved patio (they call a ”village green”) and a dangerous, hulking, multi-level, parking garage. http://chathamchoice.org/2022/01/is-this-what-you-want-for-chatham/ What about the costs? Would Chatham Borough wind up with any net revenue at all? Nobody’s saying. Absolutely horrible.
Option #2: Nightmare II. A big 3-story, 100-unit project west of Bowers Lane. On the plus side, it would provide 15 affordable family units. But this project would sacrifice 100% of our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for as little as $1 million, leaving us with NO public parking at POP. That lack of parking might offset some of the additional traffic, but would probably kill most of our existing downtown businesses. In effect, we’d suffer greater density in return for nothing but the hope of $415,000 in annual PILOT payments. And what about the Borough costs for 100 additional families? No estimates available. We could end up with no net revenue. Terrible.
Option #3: Best Hope. A much smaller, 3-story, 15-unit project west of Bowers Lane. On the plus side, this one would provide 15 affordable housing units, an est. $45,000 per year in PILOT payments, would cost the Borough far less density, traffic, and municipal services than #1 or #2, would upgrade and preserve almost half of our public parking lot along with some small-town charm. Only issue would be the possibility of up to $1.5 million in construction costs, which could lead to a very small property tax increase. That would be well worth it to preserve our borough. So if we must choose among these five options, this is our best hope.
Option #4: Frankenstein. An even bigger, 3-story, 200-unit project. It would include a large 100-family project on the west side of Bowers and a 115-bed assisted living facility on the east side. This option would provide 22 units of affordable housing, and might bring in $415,000 per year in gross revenue – plus unspecified assisted living taxes – but it would dramatically increase density and traffic, bring Main Street to a halt at shift changes, and sacrifice our public parking lot – worth at least $10.5 million – for a mere $1 million or so. What about the other Borough costs? Again, we have no information about that. Just plain terrible.
Option 5: Frankenstein Jr. A variation on #3, with a small, 10-11 unit family apartment house on the west side of tiny Bowers Lane, and a huge, 100-unit, 115-bed assisted living facility crammed onto a less-than-1-acre plot on the east side of Bowers Lane. The plus is that it could provide up to 18 units of affordable housing and perhaps $30,000 per year in gross revenues – along with unspecified assisted living taxes – and a parking lot upgrade. But that’s only after reducing the lot by more than 50% – without compensation. This option would also dramatically increase traffic, and choke Bowers Lane at shift-changing times. It might cost as much as $1 million to finance construction of the apartment building, but we could easily finance that with no more than a minuscule tax increase, which would be far better than Options #1, #2, and #4. What would the other costs total? No known estimates. Bad, but not the worst possibility.
With top experts on retainer, how did it come to this? How can our Council possibly choose from such bad (and poorly detailed) options on May 2 as planned?
We’ll have another shot at it next Monday night, April 25, 7:30, when Borough lawyer Jonathan Drill returns to the Middle School auditorium to spin us with half-truths, as he did at the April 6 Zoom meeting:
Just don’t let him badger, interrupt, condescend to and bully you (as he did last night) into picking one of his options. Let’s get all the facts before making any choices.
Whatever the eventual outcome, Chatham will be far better off because of our efforts.
Best thing to do now is write a quick letter to the editor. https://www.tapinto.net/towns/chatham/ Give your opinion of last night’s Town Hall. Maybe mention our wonderful moderator. The Council’s failure to participate. The Mayor suddenly ending the meeting when he’d promised to go all night. Their failure to negotiate with Fran Drew as with the other bidders.
But that isn’t what it says in the agreement our Mayor signed last June 14, 2021.**
And it isn’t what Mr. Drill had our planning expert testify – under oath – at an August 6, 2021 hearing where the judge approved that agreement:
“[T}he Redevelopment Agreement is due by, well, by June first of 2022…,” she testified. “[T]here are some options that if we aren’t able to come to some agreement with a redeveloper by that particular date that we could either substitute a separate… affordable housing mechanism… or ask for an extension if we are moving forward with the, a redeveloper for that area…”***
So far, Mr. Drill has refused to explain why he insists that June 1 date is written in stone.
Best any layman can tell, that June 1 date was a mere target date – not written in stone.
The judge didn’t even mention June 1 in his order approving the June 14 agreement.***
There is no apparent reason for our Mayor & Council to lunge ahead with a proposal we haven’t even seen yet.
There is no reason why the Mayor & Council cannot put a broad range of proposals on their voting menu, including a proposal to convert existing market rate apartments to affordable housing, also called “Market-to-Affordable” or “M2A.”
Please insist that they include the M2A option on the voting menu. Sign this letter:
Epilogue: Caught lying about that alleged June 1 deadline, Mr. Drill then postponed a different (April 29) deadline to June 1, in a sad bid to save face at the April 18 Town Hall. http://chathamchoice.org/2022/04/
(The access code is: 1234. Download a copy to a Windows computer and click on “Extract All.” After extracting (unzip), look in the BIN folder, double click on the CPLAYER file, and press the arrow to start playing it. Save the file. The link expires at the end of May 2022.)
Ask them togive themselves more time to think – and consider what we residents want – before voting (June 1 is not a hard & fast deadline – see link here http://chathamchoice.org/2022/04/);
Insist that they include on the menu of voting options a broad range of proposals for Post Office Plaza – at least one that does not involve new construction, or impinge on our public parking lot (such as Market-to-Affordable).