Council Demands "Excruciating" Financial Details, Announces Site for Senior Center

Dec. 20, 2007 -- At last night's Asbury Park City Council meeting officials repeated the city's commitment to take a fine tooth comb to Metro Homes' financials. "The city is more than concerned about layoffs, especially at this time of year," said Mayor Kevin Sanders. Metro Homes is in default and the city will hold Metro Homes in violation of their agreement, he said.

Metro Homes, which halted construction on its Esperanza Ocean Avenue development officially on Dec. 10, must turn over a laundry list of financial information to the city. City Manager Terry Reidy said the city has the right to demand the information "in excruciating detail" and will take a "scrupulous look at their financials."

When asked who had advised the city not to pursue performance bonds initially, Reidy said attorney Glenn Scotland, one of the city's redevelopment attorneys, had explained during the city's press conference on the issue yesterday afternoon that in cases where private entities are involved, performance bonds are not usually required. If private and public financing is used, "yes," said Reidy, but not when private funds are used. "This is the normal way business is done," he said, relaying Scotland's answer.

However, Ed Johnson told the Asbury Park Press that no development on the waterfront should proceed without performance bonds. Such bonds would have protected the city from economic loss in the event a builder failed to complete a project, according to Johnson.

Reidy said Paramount Homes, owners of the North Beach development, which includes the Seville, Monterrey and Barcelona condo buildings, had assured the city that it is "alive and well" and moving toward the next phase. Reidy concluded that the city has other areas such as North Beach to look toward for drawing revenue.

Asbury Radio asked Reidy if Paramount Homes had mentioned its intention not to finish in advance the remaining unsold units in its Barcelona building. But Reidy said he wasn't aware of the plan to complete the units only as they're purchased.

Reidy also announced that the city had finally located a property on which the seniors could have a senior center. They've been without their own center since workers for Asbury Partners severed a live gas line with a power saw at the First Avenue pavilion, where the seniors used the upstairs until 2002.

The approximately 150' x 150' lot, on the corner of Atkins and Springwood avenues, is already owned by the city. The city will contract with Interfaith Neighbors, a city-based nonprofit that has built many affordable housing units, using grant money from Interfaith and previous donations from Bruce Springsteen, as well as monies put aside by the city from Asbury Partners for community purposes. Reidy said Interfaith has a grant that pays out $1 million a year for 10 years, and that the seniors' fund contains approximately $200,000.

Paul McEvily, a principal with Interfaith, confirmed the agreement. McEvily said he envisioned possibly a three-story building with commercial space on the ground floor, rental space on the second and a combination of senior center and municipal satellite offices on the third floor. McEvily said he'd like to see a satellite police facility there if it could be arranged.

Reidy gave the "best realistic date" for completion date for the center as July 2009.

City Pins Hopes on Esperanza

Esperanza site, photographed on December 11, 2007
Photo by Werner Baumgartner

The City is pinning its hopes on Esperanza. It may sound redundant to those with any knowledge of the Spanish word for hope, but it's not really.

The City of Asbury Park is optimistic that the developers of the twin condo tower community, known as Esperanza, will find the financing they need to complete the high rises, which bear the dubious distinction of trying to rise from the very same plot of land that supported the skeleton of Joseph Carabetta’s high-rise, which failed to be completed due to, well, a bank.

The unfinished high-rise stood suspended in time from the bank debacle of the late '80s until Asbury Partners, which bought all the waterfront development rights from Carabetta, finally sold the parcel to Metro Homes. The failed project was imploded on April 29, 2006, much the way the credit frenzy of the past few years imploded on itself this summer and fall.

Meanwhile, lawyers hover over Esperanza eager to attach liens. Buyers with money down must be fretting over those escrow monies. And, nervous residents scrutinized a back page of the Asbury Park Press on Dec. 11, 2007, where outstanding taxes were listed, especially the row that shows Esperanza or its developer Metro Homes owing $44,000 in taxes.

In fairness, the city has taken to holding "accelerated" tax sales, accelerated because the city needs the revenue and any late fines it can gather in the process as fast as it can get it. So many taxpayers listed there simply didn't pay the bill in the short turnaround time allotted, or actually paid it after press time. The fact is that city coffers have been thrown a curve by the lack of tax revenue it anticipated from new condo owners. The condos are behind schedule in coming online and those finished are not selling swiftly. Out of the 90-odd Wesley Grove condos that are finished, fewer than 10 have filed deeds. Out of the 157 at North Beach, fewer than 50 have deeds on them. Depending on who you listen to, the city has an $8 million or $13 million short fall to cover.

Because of the history, residents, back when the latest plan was being formed, had lots to say about how to deal with the current redevelopers. One of those suggestions was that the city vet all subdevelopers -- those actually building something as opposed to just holding the rights -- and require that they post performance bonds. However, the city didn't require the "fast track" developers to post the bonds. Mayor Kevin Sanders confirmed as much during a chance encounter at Target on Dec. 11. The performance bonds would be required of subsequent developers but not the fast track ones.

But there is hope. The mayor told us that no fewer than three entities are vying to take the Wesley Grove development off Charlie Kushner's hands. And, Dean Geibel, Metro's founder, is not just in it for the money. He's sentimental about Asbury Park and sometimes that kind of spirit can work miracles. Also, this time around another player is in the mix, an entity brought in to manage the commercial and entertainment aspects of the boardwalk, Madison Marquette. A principal of Madison Marquette, Gary Mottola, recently led Tri-City News to believe that he wouldn't be averse to assuming Asbury Partners' role here. Madison, in addition to great taste and style, has very deep pockets and a $1.2 billion investment fund. Madison has already invested a great deal in the landmark buildings and thoroughfares that make Asbury Park a destination, and now one to feel proud of again.

Instead of prospective bankers looking at a deserted windswept boardwalk from Convention Hall to the Casino, this time they may gaze toward Ocean Grove and see huge potential. Maybe as the city hinted, the scale of Esperanza will have to be honed down a bit. It wasn't supposed to be built to 16 stories anyway, according to the legally executed development plan. But, hey, that's a whole other story. Suffice to say there definitely is hope. Besides, it's hard to browbeat a guy who’s making his second trip of the night to Target for his daughter's school project due the next day. But next time guys, how about those bonds?

Council Member Johnson Also Rejects North End Development

The following is a message to The Asbury Tower Residents Assn., confirming council member Ed Johnson's position as he stated it during an historical first, when the City of Asbury Park Council traveled to Asbury Tower to hold a public meeting, on December 4th.

Johnson said then that he is against the removal of the yet to be renovated boardwalk that runs from 7th Ave. to Deal Lake and the plan to build several 4 to 5-story town houses on the green space east of Asbury Tower.

Johnson and fellow council member James Keady agree and both reject the dune walk proposed for the section. They favor a shorter dune walk that would run from the Deal Lake Drive extension to the Lake. In other words residents would retain their boardwalk, which would be rebuilt, in-place and have the option to take the shortened dune walk as well.

Subject: Re: Meetings Dec 5 & 6


It was my pleasure to join you this past week. I have always felt that Asbury Park has many treasured assets that should remain and be protected. The Boardwalk is one of them! I plan to move forward with supporting a workable solution that includes rebuilding the Boardwalk, adding a meandering walk from the current end of it to Deal Lake and an alternative to the Town Homes proposed for that area.

Thank You!
Ed Johnson

Asbury Park City Council Meeting
Nov. 7, 2007

Asbury Park seniors who live on the north end of the city at the ocean's edge are enraged by the city's plans to rip out their section of the boardwalk, the stretch from 7th Ave. to Deal Lake Drive -- the only section that wasn't replaced during the last boardwalk renovation. The city also granted developers the right to build townhouses on the narrow band of grass between the Asbury Tower building, senior housing, and the ocean. This is foolhardy given current concerns about seas rising and the negative environmental effects of density along our coastlines -- some flood insurers are turning people down for properties within three miles of coastlines.

So Asbury Radio asked the council members Wednesday night which one will propose an amendment to the Waterfront Redevelopment Plan, which has been amended numerous times for the advantage of developers and Asbury Partners, the development rights holder. Council members John Loffredo and Ed Johnson, and deputy mayor Jim Bruno (the mayor was not present) said nothing. However, council member James Keady answered that he would put forth an amendment, to which Bruno replied, "Of course you'd say that."

Stay tuned everyone. Asbury Tower, also a polling place, is home to a huge voting block in this city of few voters. In Tuesday's election, when turnout was expected to be very light, more than 100 people cast ballots there.

More Building on the Waterfront

As the environmental Question #3 goes up for a vote this Tuesday, Asbury Park's current plan calls for yet more building on the waterfront, townhouses in flood planes. Ques. 3 seeks to limit building in flood zones. The following lots already are in a flood zone. Furthermore, even this oceanfront lot wasn't in a flood zone are we to believe it's the one square mile that Global Warming isn't going to touch? Unless something is done to convince the current council that this rampant development literally on the ocean's edge is insane, the city engineer will continue to put finishing touches on the plan, which calls for tearing out the existing boardwalk from Seventh Avenue north to Deal Lake Drive and replacing it with a meandering dune walk, which will lie 10' - 12' wide on the sand, shouldered on either side by dunes 5' - 7' in height. Townhouses represented in the graphic as brown squares will border the east side of Asbury Tower, facing the ocean, and march down the eastward and western sides of the triangle, where people currently park. This triangular parking lot and the streets surrounding it were sold by the city to Asbury Partners LLC to construct those towns houses and an 8 - 10 story condo tower.

Keady Asks State's Help
on Waterfront Plan

Even as the City of Asbury Park embarks on yet another agreement to amend the current agreement to revive the mile long waterfront, which it has with redevelopment rights holder Asbury Partners, one councilmember has asked the State of New Jersey to step in.

Councilmember James Keady announced during the Sept. 5, 2007 council meeting that he has contacted Susan Jacobucci, the new director of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), regarding the city’s receipt of $7.5 million from the state for extraordinary aid. Keady, who voted no on accepting the aid, contends that taxpayers throughout the state are being forced to subsidize Asbury Park through this aid, in essence “underwriting the incompetence of Asbury Partners,” which he says “has failed to perform.” Keady says he is asking for "technical and tactical help" from the state.

According to Keady, the Partners, who contracted with the city in 2002 to be a master developer to locate and screen potential developers to build a largely residential community on the beachfront, is now behind 1100 units in its commitment schedule. The city has forecasted tax revenues based on these development deadlines. However, fewer than 40 deeds for new waterfront condominiums have been filed to date, said Keady, who has also requested that Gov. Jon Corzine be included in the latest round of negotiations, called “The Global Negotiation” by the parties.

In Long Branch, where most developable beachfront property has already been built on, the process started with a plan and bids were requested for multiple developers to execute multiple projects called for in that plan. In contrast, Asbury Park drew up its redevelopment map to fit the agreement it made with the tax lien and redevelopment rights buyer, Asbury Partners. The original agreement became the waterfront redevelopment plan and was adopted into law. As Asbury Park’s negotiations and subsequent re-negotiations - all held in private with the Partners under the ‘contract negotiations’ exemption in the Open Meetings Public Act - proceeded, the city’s waterfront plan was amended through subsequent amendments to the original ordinance.

Asbury Radio sued the city and won the argument on appeal that the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act was being violated by both parties to the contract negotiating in private while the public was kept in the dark. Following the appeals panel’s decision the city’s law firm, Ansell Zaro Grimm & Aaron, sent letters to all relevant clients.

When the Partners failed to meet deadlines, after numerous extensions, the city finally negotiated a “Dispute Resolution Agreement,” which was passed by resolution, eliminating the public input that would’ve been necessary had it been drafted as an ordinance. The DRA was created without the benefit of the Sunshine Law by the use of two council members, fewer than a quorum that would’ve required the presence of the public, representing the council, which negotiated in private with the Partners and then returned to the council to inform them, again in private. Asbury Radio has asked the Public Advocate to investigate this obvious circumvention of the OPM Act. We have learned that it is in wide use now throughout the state.

Is City's Latest Deal A Grand Prize for The Partners? Rewarding Bad Behavior

I'm amazed by the local daily's reaction to this Madison Marquette (MM) deal with Asbury Partners. The editorial board interview was a cream puff job. Once more, it contained no financial information!! The only way to be confident of any partnership is to know what the parties are in for - a dime or a dollar.   [READ MORE]