In a scorching rebuke, Morristown officials on Tuesday accused a would-be developer of bullying, intimidation, ineptness and greed.
“Said simply, the Town will not be bullied or otherwise threatened into granting a tax abatement, at the expense of taxpayers, simply so your client may artificially inflate the sales price of its property,” town Special Counsel John Inglesino said in a letter read aloud at the town council’s redevelopment meeting.
His sharply worded four-page missive responded to remarks to the council last week by attorneys Philip Rosenbach and Linda Cahn, who threatened a federal lawsuit because the town allegedly ignored a 2015 agreement with their client, Paul Marshall, to approve his apartment project as part of a massive Speedwell Avenue redevelopment.
Those lawyers accused the town of whittling down Marshall’s project from 150 units to zero. They gave the council four months to approve an 83-unit complex with 8,000-square-feet of retail space, with its partner, Claremont Development.
But Inglesino said Claremont, despite lengthy discussions with town planners, never submitted an application for council consideration. What’s more, he said, that company no longer is a partner with Marshall.
The town special counsel contended Claremont had sought a long-term tax break –known as a PILOT, for Payments in Lieu of Taxes — to support Marshall’s “prodigious purchase price” of $6.5 million for his parcel, a price that market conditions cannot justify, according to Inglesino.
“Your client’s demand that the taxpayers of Morristown subsidize a redevelopment project so that your client can inflate its purchase price is based on your client’s one consistent virtue–Greed!” Inglesino’s letter states.
Accusing Marshall’s lawyers of a “complete lack of knowledge” of redevelopment law, Inglesino blamed their client’s “ineptness” for the failure to move forward with a 65-unit project–which would be the second-highest density, per acre, in Morristown– that would have addressed the town’s desire to improve a blighted area.
Marshall’s team further misled the town by failing to disclose that Cahn is Marshall’s wife, and thus has a “pecuniary” interest in the matter, charged Inglesino. He directed the lawyers to direct all future communications to the town’s legal team, not to the council. Failure to comply would result in an ethics complaint, Inglesino warned.
Under the state’s Open Public Records Act, MorristownGreen.com last week asked the town clerk’s office for copies of documents submitted by Marshall’s attorneys. That request had not been fulfilled as of Wednesday morning.
Marshall, Cahn and Rosenbach attended Tuesday’s redevelopment meeting, but did not speak publicly. They declined to respond to Inglesino’s statements, telling MorristownGreen.com they would prepare a formal answer.
At issue is the so-called Phase III of a four-part redevelopment of Speedwell Avenue. The other three stages–a CVS pharmacy and 453 apartments in buildings called Modera 44 and Modera 55–are completed.
Phase III, at Speedwell and Clinton Place, involves less than an acre. Redevelopment plans also call for a park, but the town said its construction has been delayed partly because of uncertainty about Phase III.
Inglesino’s remarks were delivered at the start of a three-and-a-half-hour session devoted mainly to discussion of the proposed “M Station” office/retail redevelopment of Spring and Morris streets. Stay tuned for a report on that.