Clare Silvestri’s comments to the Town Council meeting of 3/20/12—TEXT

March 20, 2012

Good Evening.  Clare Silvestri, 20 Grand View Avenue

  • I just want to add a few points to the comments I made about redevelopment at the last meeting here.
  • There’s been a lot of concern raised about the proposal’s level of risk to the town.  Many have pointed out that the financial analysis only presents a best-case scenario and doesn’t address what if the apartments don’t go for anywhere close to the projected rents.
  • I recall a similar issue in the 2009 plan. And poor Mr. Benecke, the town’s financial advisor at the time, being pummeled with questions from residents, some of whom were developers themselves.  And I’d remind you that, in hindsight, Mr. Benecke’s rosy projections proved to be very flawed.
  • So, what if “the experts” are wrong again?
  • Another point I’d like to raise is this whole idea that Prism is the only game in town, and we have to make all these concessions because no one else would ever want to come in and develop this property.
  • I have here a NY Times article dated April 6, 2008, in which then Mayor McKeon acknowledged that other developers had been interested in the site, but they wanted to make the project heavily retail.  So it seems at the time, the real estate market itself didn’t see the project as predominantly residential. And from what I’ve been hearing for more than 2 years from many people in town, most residents don’t think the project should be predominantly residential.  And since Prism is insisting that the proposed project can’t go ahead without major concessions from the town — like the $6.3 million taxpayer guaranteed bonds and the waiver of the COAH obligation– perhaps even they are signaling that predominantly residential may not be the best way to success.
  • I had hoped when the proposal for 600+ condo units was tabled back in 2009, it would have come back as something innovative that would energize our downtown and West Orange in general.  But it seems that’s not the kind of project that Prism does.
  • On the webpage listing their current projects, there’s a quote from Mr. Diaz: “We stick to what we know.  Because what you don’t know will hurt you!”  I applaud Prism for having such a clear corporate focus. But if you look at their projects portfolio, it’s strictly commercial office buildings with the exception of our site and “Parkway Lofts” in Bloomfield, which is very similar to this proposal except it has a rail station located less than 100 yards away.
  • My understanding is that about 7 or 8 years ago, Prism was actually invited by the administration to submit a proposal for the site that competed with a proposal presented by the then-owner of the land.  The town chose Prism’s proposal, and the other developer then sold the site to Prism.  Also important to note is that in the normal course of business, Prism has  purchased sites and then sold them off without developing them.  Such as their property on Prospect Avenue, where they developed the largest parcel of the Organon site and have or on in the process of selling off the other parcels.
  • So this is a long way around saying, we don’t have to take this or nothing.
  • And as a Council, I’d ask you to consider one more thing.  This redevelopment project has caused great divisiveness in our community.  The division appears to be between people who want the property developed now because the site looks so bad and the people who also want it developed but fear that a predominantly residential project will fail.
  • You have it within your power to push for the right kind of development at Edison.  If you do that, just about everyone in town will be supporting it.
  • Again tonight, I suggest that a “no” vote would not be a vote against redevelopment, but actually be a “yes” to bringing the best possible project to this site – a truly “Destination West Orange”.