Council Approves Golden Triangle Deal
Residents suspect super Wal-Mart targeted for the area.
Updated to reflect how Township Council voted and to more accurately summarize the comments of Anthony Riccobono.
The Township Council approved resolutions Monday that will pave the way for the development of the Golden Triangle property, but not before two residents expressed concerns about what might be built there.
Anthony Riccobono, a former township councilman, said he fears that a superstore is slated to be built on the site – at the corner of Tices Lane and northbound Route 18 – and that such a store would drastically change the demographic of the area.
“It’s not something we should be doing and should think twice about it,” he said.
Mayor David Stahl said he is not at liberty to say what company wants to move to the site because a lease hasn’t been signed with the property’s owner, Toll Brothers, yet.
Resident John Minella echoed the concerns of Riccobono, and asked that the council not approve the plan. He said a store of that size would drastically change the demographic of the area, drive smaller and larger anchor stores located elsewhere along the Route 18 corridor out of business, and make it impossible to attract higher end grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s.
“If a Super Wal-Mart came in, there is a chance that it would put other anchor stores out of business, and then the strip malls would go out,” he said.
“I really implore you to give this some thought,” said Minella. “I really advise you to not put a superstore there. Let’s not turn the town into something it’s not.”
The plan is part of an agreement between Toll Brothers and the township that will end years of litigation between the two. The property was originally owned by the township and leased to a company that in turn subleased the land. In anticipation of that deal expiring in 2008, the township explored alternative uses for the land and in 2005 reached a deal with Toll Brothers and Jack Morris to purchase the 32-acre property from the township for $30.4 million. However, the developer had the right to terminate the agreement, and the township would have to buy it back, plus 8 percent. The clause came into play years later when the developers backed out and after seven payments totaling $22.5 million said the township was in default of the contract and demanded East Brunswick buy the parcel back. The township in turn sued and the two sides have been litigating the issue since.
As part of the proposed settlement, there will be no additional payments from Toll Brothers to the township, meaning that the land has been bought for the $22.5 million already paid. In addition, the developer also has the right to sell the property back to the township within three years - but at no interest - if the township does not live up to its end of the bargain, said Mayor Stahl. However, the township’s responsibilities are largely administrative and ones that can be easily performed, he said. In addition, that part of the deal would be nullified the moment a “shovel hits the ground,” said Mayor Stahl. The agreement also calls for Toll Brothers to drop approximately $600,000 in tax appeals it has filed with the township.
The agreement allows Toll Brothers can build up to 220,000 square feet of commercial retail space - with no one store being larger than 180,000 square feet - and 200 to 400 housing units. Under the agreement, no more than 10 percent of those units can be three bedroom apartments. Mayor Stahl said he expects Toll Brothers to build close to the maximum number of units allowed.
The agreement also calls for an annual Payment In Lieu Of Taxes of $550,000, which would increase as the residential component is built, said Mayor Stahl. Under state statutes, the PILOT program would be approximately 65 to 70 percent less than the normal property taxes, with that level increasing until 100 percent of property tax levels are reached.
Council members said that while the agreement isn’t necessarily to their liking, it is better than the alternative of having nothing built and having to pay money back to Toll Brothers.
“I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy, but the reality is that we have a deal…is it perfect? It’s far from perfect,” said Councilwoman Camille Ferraro.
Councilman Michael Hughes said areas near superstores elsewhere tend to do well. Council members also said a commercial area on Route 1 southbound in West Windsor is home to the Quakerbridge Mall, another strip mall with a Shop Rite, and a third mall with a Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Target. Across the street is a Trader Joe’s and just north of that is the Marketfair mall.
On Tuesday, Mayor Stahl said he did not know if a company has official signed off on a lease.
Despite the approvals, the plan was almost held up when Councilman James Wendell refused to approve a resolution authorizing the mayor and clerk to execute the already approved settlement. He said that he did not receive the final signed copy.
Township redevelopment attorney Jeffrey Lehrer, from DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer, a firm headed by former Republican governor and state Sen. Donald DiFrancesco and supported by Wendell and his fellow Republicans in January, said the documents were hand delivered to the township between 4 and 4:30 p.m. that day and that they were exactly the same as ones previously reviewed and approved by the council, with the addition of signatures from Toll Brothers.
While township officials went to photocopy the agreement, Lehrer told council members that not approving the resolution could jeopardize the deal.
“It’s the same document you read, with the addition of signatures,” he said.
The council approved the resolution 3-1 minutes later, with Wendell the lone dissenting vote and Nancy Pinkin recusing herself.
“I can’t in good conscious vote for this without reading the document,” he said before the vote.