Bloomingdale Councilwoman Linda Shortman was planning to vote Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that would repeal borough legislation for a redevelopment plan for the area in which AvalonBay is building a luxury apartment complex on Union Avenue. But she changed her mind.
After hearing about a dozen residents speak against the repeal ordinance and her council colleagues' opinions on the subject, it was the warning of Borough Attorney Fred Semrau that adopting the ordinance would make the borough vulnerable to litigation that caused Shortman, a Republican, to vote against it. Her negative vote, along with the "no" votes of Democrats Ray Yazdi and John D'Amato, caused the motion to die.
"I have total respect and total confidence in the attorney's opinion. I won't support this ordinance," she said.
If approved, the ordinance would have further set back the process for the borough to enter into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program with the developer of AvalonBay. The program was rejected by the Republican council majority last month after several presentations by Yazdi and Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy.
The PILOT program would grant the borough quarterly payments for 30 years instead of AvalonBay having to pay taxes over the duration of time. This would cut out the portion of money typically afforded to the school district through standard taxation. The borough would recoup the bulk of the financial benefit, with the county also receiving 5 percent.
Dunleavy said Tuesday approximately $10,000 of borough money was already spent on professionals and planning to get Bloomingdale to the point in the process where it currently is with the redevelopment plan and proposal for a PILOT program. After the PILOT was rejected, Dunleavy said the issue became a focus point of the election, with the two newcomer Democrats elected, Mike Sondermeyer and Rich Dellaripa, in favor of the program while Republican incumbent Jo-Ann Pituch was not.
Pituch added the repeal ordinance item to Tuesday's council agenda and was the only council member to vote in favor of it. Republican Councilman Mark Conklin abstained and Glenn Schiffman, who was absent, is recused from voting on any issue relating to the AvalonBay property, as his home is within 300 feet.
Bill Graf, a 42-year resident of the borough and Bloomingdale Planning Board member, responded to Pituch's only comment before the issue was formally approved for discussion that she did not feel the area in which AvalonBay is building was "blighted" and in need of redevelopment. Graf said the planning board spent hours listening to testimony from professionals and that the area did not need to be classified as "blighted" to qualify as an area in need of redevelopment.
"At the planning board level, blighted area did not come into play at all," he said.
A few residents said they felt the repeal ordinance introduction on the agenda was politically-motivated and "spiteful" for Pituch losing the election. Resident John Darcey made a plea to Shortman and Conklin, who will remain on the council next year, to put the interest of voters first.
"Don't vote party lines, vote for what we want," he said.
Katharine Emory, another resident, said Tuesday's was the first council meeting she had attended, but that she found the issue "incredibly sad." She told the council members that the citizens' votes are reflective of how they feel on certain issues and that it is their jobs to pay attention to the desires of the people.
"When we feel that you are not acting in our best interests, we respond with our votes...and we did," she said.
Resident Dawn Hudson reaffirmed the mayor and Democrat council members' intentions to once again push for the PILOT program in 2013 and said she did not understand why Republicans would try to stifle the process knowing it would likely move forward next year.
"We will forge ahead on the issue," Dunleavy promised.
She called the repeal ordinance a "tit-for-tat" and questioned why the council members voted in favor of the redevelopment plan in the first place to now repeal it.
"It's angering that you voted for this and now you've changed your minds," she said.
Later, Pituch said she had researched the issue and found a Supreme Court case that explains classifications of areas in need of redevelopment. She said she did not feel the AvalonBay site met the criteria.
"It was a beautiful, forest area," she said.
Former Councilwoman Linda Huntley said she did not feel the process by which the area was designated as being in need of redevelopment was appropriate because she felt the area needed to be determined as "blighted." But Semrau disputed her arguments and said she was incorrect.
Semrau, who did not draft the repeal ordinance, said the new ordinance could lend the borough to potential litigation by AvalonBay or another affected resident as the reasons for repealing the redevelopment plan ordinance were not documented and presented prior. When the redevelopment plan ordinance was approved by the council, the borough legally took the stance that the plan was "necessary and appropriate," he said.
"I don't see how we would be able to sustain this type of significant change in planning," he said.
Before voting against the ordinance, Shortman said she did "disagree with almost everything that was said." She emphasized that she does not feel that a PILOT program is right for a residential property and that, in her opinion, the program would later hurt the borough.
But she also thanked the residents who spoke for coming to the meeting and expressing their opinions.
"I am proud of you, as citizens," she said.