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Prism Redevelopment Project Back In the News

Cynthia Cumming

Thursday, August 15, 2013 • 11:39pm

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Prism Redevelopment Project, aka Edison Village, is back in the news.

Last week the Alternative Press contacted Prism for an update on the status of their Main Street redevelopment project. Eugene Diaz, one of the principals involved in the Edison Village redevelopment at 175 Main Street, issued the following statement as to when construction was expected to begin on the Edison Village (Edison Battery Factory) redevelopment project:

“We are finalizing our construction loan and hoping to recommence construction in late September.”

The project stalled after residents filed lawsuits against Prism and the township. After the ordinances were passed, residents opposed to the redevelopment project filed lawsuits.  One was filed by the Citizens for Responsible Government Spending (CFRGS) by Rosary Morelli, Mark Meyerowitz, Windale Simpson, Althia Tweiten , and Michael Scharfstein in an attempt to bring the bond ordinance to a public referendum vote. Twice rejected by the township, the Superior Court ruled that the ordinance was "not subject to state laws governing referendums."

The petitioners then took their case to the Appellate Court , again filing the petition against the Township of West, Mayor Robert D. Parisi, and Township Clerk Karen Carnevale, along with Prism.

The plaintiffs’ position centered around the argument that the “township failed to comply with the requirements of NJSA 40:A:12A-37(d), by first presenting the Ordinance to the local finance board for approval.”  In addition, the plaintiffs claimed that the “Ordinance was not subject to NJSA 40A:12A-28 and the Township Clerk improperly rejected their petitions.”

On June 22, 2012, Superior Court Judge Vena dismissed the complaint, saying that it was “untimely pursuant to Rule 4:69-6” and that the plaintiffs “had not shown the Ordinance was invalid or subject to referendum.”

The plaintiffs then appealed to the Appellate court, arguing that the ordinance was a general obligation bond and not a redevelopment bond.  The case was argued on May 28, and on July 23, Applellate Judges Espinosa and Guadano affirmed Judge Vena’s original ruling agreeing that the petition was untimely because the petition was “time-barred” and their argument regarding the decision of the Township Clerk was “moot.”

William Northgrave, Esq. of  McManimon and Scotland, who argued the case on behalf of the township, confirmed to the Alternative Press on August 14 that the Appellate division did not dissent and unanimously upheld the Superior Court and township clerk’s decision.  He additionally noted that the plaintiffs have already filed a Notice of Petition to take the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The submission of their Brief is required on or around August 23. The NJ Supreme court will then have 15 days to review the petition and determine whether to move forward with the case or not.  Should the Supreme Court move forward with the petition, the developers and township will most likely have to adjust the plans to recommence construction in September.

The plaintiffs say they are not opposed to redevelopment but to not being able to vote on the referendum. 

The second lawsuit, filed by town residents Kevin Malanga and E. Michael Taylor, sought to overturn the ordinance which granted a 30 year tax exemption to Prism under a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, instead of regular Estate Tax payments. That lawsuit was dismissed on July 27, 2012.

*According to Township CFO John Gross, the cost to date to respond to the lawsuits is $33,345.26. The money is paid to the township attorneys through an escrow account funded by Prism, and not taxpayer dollars.

The lawsuits are not the only issues besetting the Redevelopment Project.  Prism changed its original plans to build units for purchase and will now offer rental units and utilize a combined rental/retail plan.  They have also been late in paying the property taxes on the Main Street Property to the frustration of both residents and township administration.  Although they have paid the late fees involved, as of August 15, they remain late in paying both Second and Third quarter property taxes.  Prism now owes $ 226,680.50, including interest.  Figures were confirmed by Joanne Gagliardi, West Orange Township Tax Collector, on August 13.

Prism is planning to move forward with the project, which was originally set to begin in April.  Mayor Parisi felt confident that the Appellate Court’s decision was a favorable indicator in moving forward with redevelopment.

For a description of Edison Village, go to www.prismpartners.net/proj_edisonvillage.html.

* Editor's Note:  This article was updated on August 21, 2013.

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