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Redevelopment Plan Repeal Ordinance Dies in Bloomingdale

AvalonBay PILOT program ordinance could be reintroduced next year.

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.

Kit Emory November 28, 2012 at 07:38 AM
It was refreshing to hear one of the Council majority choose to make her decision based on the advice of an expert, despite obvious pressure from her party to go along with Pituch to undermine the PILOT program. It's disturbing when you have a representative tell you that they "disagree with almost everything" being said by the public, but I do believe she was listening, for what it's worth. Why the experts on the Planning Board, along with the borough auditor (put in place by her party) weren't enough to sway her earlier, however, may remain a mystery. But at least the threat of costly litigation as envisioned by attorney Semrau was enough to change her vote. Still, seeing pure politics wielded in such a callous, mean way by Ms. Pituch was a sad experience indeed. I felt like I was watching an angry child who wasn't going to leave the sandbox without soiling it first for the next kid. Ugh.
Carolyn November 28, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Agreed. To her credit Shortman at least listened to the paid professional. The most puzzling thing is how anyone could have heard the attorney say that we were vulnerable to a lawsuit and heard that it would cost taxpayers at a minimum another 10 thousand and still vote for Pituch's anonymously written Ordinance. Questions remain: I'm puzzled by Conklin's abstention. Didn't he have any opinion? Any why was it too embarrassing for Pituch to reveal the author of the Ordinance? And why did Pituch rudely interrupt Shortman to ask about cell phone usage? She voted FOR cell phone usage.! The best advice for Pituch came from a former Counciman who said "when I lost I took it and walked out the door" and urged Pituch to do the same.
Krikor Etmekjian November 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Last night was a win for the will of the people. Thank you Councilmembers Shortman and Conklin for listening to the people and saving Bloomingdale the unnecessary expense that surely would have resulted. Councilwoman Shortmans’ position that PILOT should not be applied to residential developments is valid and I agree wholeheartedly. The concern in that argument is the school tax and what would be the result of a spike in the enrolment rates. The business decision has to be made on what Avalon Bays additional school tax would have been under normal taxation and if the PILOT portion would cover that. A point to mitigate that impact is the opt out clause Bloomingdale has in PLOT. If the financials change in the years to come Bloomingdale could approach Avalon Bay to adjust the agreement or opt out.
Kit Emory November 28, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Great point, Krikor. The opt-out clause does protect Bloomingdale. As for the school tax issue, I think that was a smokescreen of the highest order. There is simply NO data to support that there will be a significant burden on the schools nor a decrease in school tax revenue such that it would offset the huge benefits to the town. Bottom line: these issues were ALL very carefully vetted by the Planning Board (with legal experts), the Republican-appointed Borough Auditor (another expert, one would hope), and the highly-paid Republican-hired town attorney (expert). I do not expect my Council members to all be experts in these complex fields. Why Pituch (seemingly controlled by Linda Huntley in the most appalling manner) went looking for "new" evidence to squelch the PILOT program via legal channels is beyond me, but confirms that the people chose well when they voted her off the Council. She should be embarrassed by such behavior. And Huntley's arguments with Attorney Semrau were simply mortifying; they revealed a level of ignorance that should keep her banned from town politics forever! I was shocked. Why wouldn't the soon-to-be-former majority listen to their own experts who advocated the PILOT program? The only answer I can come up with is that they dislike the Mayor personally so much that they want to thwart him at the town's expense. Shame, shame. Conklin's abstention was cowardly; I hope he grows a spine. Listen to your experts, people! Sheesh....
Kit Emory November 28, 2012 at 06:07 PM
And, for what it's worth, dear Council - revisit that cell-phone rule, please? I would like to see my Council members pay attention to whoever is speaking. Turn those phones OFF! Ask for a 5 minute recess if you are anticipating a truly important call or message.... If you all show each other more respect, maybe there will be fewer instances of what we saw attempted last night by Ms. Pituch.
Krikor Etmekjian November 28, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Kit you hit the nail squarely on the head on the Huntley Puppet Master scenario. I was seated behind Huntley when Pituch was reading what Huntley gave her to read to support the ill-conceived motion. Every time she mispronounced a word or needed support she looked in our direction, no I don’t believe she was looking for reassurance from me. Pituch is the unfortunate collateral damage that occurs when you trust people and take bad advice from them. In some respects Pituch give us a takeaway in that Councils thought the state need a mechanism to get feedback on the wishes of the people they serve. TriboroPatch, FaceBook and Twitter can do aspects of the job but it would be nice to have a centralized state financed website that we can share local, county and statewide issues so that we can articulate our wishes to our representatives in real time.
Ann November 29, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Pituch was incredibly rude and out of control to interrupt Shortman's passionate lecture in order to scold the Mayor on his (imagined by her) cell phone use......particularly since if he HAD wanted to use a cell phone he had Pituch to thank for that ruling. What hypocrisy! Yes, the voters chose well! Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but they are not entitled to rude, anti-social behavior. Pituch demonstrates that she ( or her advisor) is solely motivated by bitterness and hatred for the Mayor. Why else would she vote for an Ordinance that was guaranteed to cost the taxpayers more money and open the town to a law suit?
Kit Emory November 29, 2012 at 05:43 AM
Ann, I actually think the Mayor *was* on his cell phone, sorry to say. Not his finest moment. But I did think his response to Pituch was brilliant and appropriate. She had no basis for complaining, given her vote to allow cell phones on the dais.
Ann November 29, 2012 at 01:50 PM
I don't know if the Mayor was researching the issue at hand and I don't know how he responded to Pituch, but I don't agree with "not his finest moment" . What was his response?
Carolyn November 29, 2012 at 02:11 PM
It is a non issue, since thanks to Pituch and Shortman it is perfectly legal to use cell phones on the dais. If I were on the dais while a big scolding lecture was being delivered I would also want to use my cell phone, do a crossword puzzle or even to go so far as to INTERRUPT the lecture as Pituch did. The Mayor's answer "no comment" was humorous and showed that he wasn't defensive. His tongue-in-cheek response was a lot more appropriate than Pituch's "no comment" response to the public's much more serious questions and issues. It is almost comical for Pituch to be so focused on cell phones when she was about to vote to have the town waste twenty thousand dollars and possibly be sued!
Andrew Buxbaum November 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM
when she asked if he was on his phone he said "no comment" which was her answer to everything. And then when she said "wasn't it you that wanted to ban cell phones?" He told her "Maybe you shouldn't have voted against it."
paul bastante November 29, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Who knows what the mayor was doing. He could have been doing a math problem on his calculator....Cmon people, Pituch is well within her rights to embarrass herself just one more time before she is thrown out of office for good.
Kit Emory November 29, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Exactly. Hoisted by her own petard, as they used to say. And, amusingly, Pituch totally insulted her colleague Ms. Shortman in the process! Ms. Shortman first upbraided the Mayor for interrupting her, then the public (for responding to her comments out loud) threatening to cut her soliloquy short if interrupted "one more time." So who then immediately bursts out loudly in interruption? Ms. Pituch! It could have been a Moliere comedy....
Rich Dellaripa November 29, 2012 at 05:57 PM
I believe the Mayor's calculator is much larger, Paul...

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