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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Senior Center issues / Reform call by Spitzer

Speaking of Senior Citizen condos, today's Bergen Record looks into the question of whether the spate of development caters to Seniors or to developers.

Hmmmmm. While there is plenty of demand, Plainfield is a completely untested market (unless you count the Faith Bricks & Mortar condos on East 7th Street, one of which PT understands is under contract). That means a lot of the talk we are hearing may be blowing smoke, since no one is showing any hard marketing studies to back up the blah-blah. One of the hidden issues is the fact that these much-coveted Seniors are looking not only to downsize or get single-floor living; they are also looking to get rid of onerous property tax burdens. But condo owners pay property taxes. So, what's the incentive? Why will people pay the bandied-about $350,000 to buy a condo in Plainfield, even if it is a well-executed project?

Speaking of well-executed, this project won't be unless someone fights for it. For instance, over the question of setbacks for the alternating units -- as per state regulations which say they must be at least two feet. What PT heard when the developer presented last month sounded more like two inches -- about the thickness of a fake brick veneer.

Also, in pricier Bergen County, units are going for less than $300,000 -- with luxury amenities such as swimming pools and common areas for entertaining guests. What does that mean for a relatively unadorned project in Plainfield?

Donna Schiavone, a councilwoman in Hillsdale, is quoted as saying "We have to keep the big picture of planning intact. . .[w]hat might be good today may not be good 15 years from now, and then you are stuck with it." Plan ahead? What an interesting concept!

Then there is the matter of the 'nominal sum' -- undisclosed -- for which the City sold the land to the UCIA and the UCIA in turn sold it to Dornoch Holdings. 'Nominal sum' is real estatese for something on the order of $1. (Keep in mind that the City was paid over $1 million dollars for the Park-Madison site . . . but then that was another Mayor.) PT's rough calculation is that the sell-out value of the project at the $350,000/unit figure would come to around $22 million. Cost figures that are bandied about of about $15 million, would mean a gross profit of approximately 50% -- helped along, of course, by the gift of the land. Better than a Christmas Club account, to be sure (if you can even remember what those were).

Is this whole deal a payoff? Who are you kidding? This is NEW JERSEY. The trick is figuring out to whom. Maybe we could get some enlightenment if we consulted the legal firm of NPR's 'Car Talk' show, the legendary Dewey, Cheatham & Howe. One hopes Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs have donned their green eyeshades to make sure this is the best deal for Plainfield.

Predictions for the Senior Condo project:

  • The units will not sell for $350,000.
  • The developer will conform to the setback requirement only after a knock-down, drag-out fight.
  • Watch for the subsidized housing bait-and-switch maneuver.
  • No one in the Administration will ask for 'owner-occupancy' covenants in the condo deeds (to prevent it becoming a rental unit).
  • There will be attempts to wiggle, shave or delay the standard PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement.
Read the complete story here -- "Does senior housing cater to seniors or developers?"

Yesterday, the reform-minded Eliot Spitzer was sworn in as New York State's 54th governor. While his inaugural address concerned issues and plans for New York, it echoes a sentiment shared by many New Jerseyans, who are waiting to see how Gov. Corzine plays out his little part on life's stage here in Joisey.

Here is an excerpt from Gov. Spitzer's address --
"Let us remember the lessons of two great governors, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt instructed, “It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to better things.”

And Franklin Roosevelt advised us to be, “bold,” and to recognize that people demand “action, and action now.”

I have no doubt that we can move on to better things in this state — that we will find ourselves on the winning side of history once more.


And so in order to return to policies of opportunity and prosperity, we must change the ethics of Albany and end the politics of cynicism and division in our state.

If ever there was a time that called out for introspection by those in government, it is now. Lincoln spoke of listening to “the better angels of our nature.” Indeed, those of us who work in the great building behind me must hear and heed the serious responsibility that public service demands and rise to this moment and show the public in words and in deeds that we understand that our responsibility is to the people of New York.

The reform we seek is substantial in size and historic in scope.

It will require a new brand of politics — a break from the days when progress was measured by the partisan points scored or the opponents defeated. No longer can we afford merely to tinker at the margins of the status quo or play the politics of pitting one group against another. We must replace delay and diversion with energy and purpose in the halls of our capital.

What we needed now more than ever is a politics that binds us together, a politics that looks to the future, a politics that asks not what is in it for me, but always what is in it for us."
The full text is here -- "Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Inaugural Address"

-- Dan Damon

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