PART 5: Plans Briefly Shown at Council Meeting, Why Weren't Residents Notified?

PART 5: Plans Briefly Shown at Council Meeting, Why Weren't Residents Notified?

By Manville.Today
May 17, 2024

On the agenda for the Mayor & Council meeting on February 26th was the following:

"Borough Engineer as to the Potential Acquisition of Property at Block 310.01, Lot 2.01, 2.02, Lot 3, and Block 310, Lot 2.03, for Relocation of Select Municipal Services, in Accord with the Borough's Resilient Communities Program Grant Application"

Unless you know what block and lot numbers belong to which properties in Manville, you wouldn't know that these are the block and lot numbers for the Rustic Mall in its entirety, plus the old Bank of America building, which was recently sold to new owners. (Block 310.01 Lot 3)

There was going to be a special presentation about the "potential acquisition" of the Rustic Mall in regards to Manville's Resilient Communities Program grant application. A major revision. That did not call for a special public notice, and no 14-day public comment period.

We discussed these revised plans in our previous article HERE.

For such a big development plan, one would think that a new special meeting should have been called, as Manville had done when presenting the original RCP Grant application back in November 2023. And a new 14-day public comment period following the meeting should have been opened, welcoming the thoughts of residents.

However, it appears that these weren't requirements on submitting a revised application. But for such a major change from the original, it would have looked better in the spirit of being transparent about what is taking place on the largest vacant lot of land in town. Residents should have had the opportunity to make their comments known.

When the Council Meeting commenced, after the proclamations were read, the Mayor introduced Joseph Brosnan, from Van Cleef Engineering Associates, who would present the plans for the Rustic Mall site.

"We put together what we thought was a very solid and comprehensive plan to address various aspects of stormwater management in the borough to rebound and build back better that where we were before Hurricane Ida.." Mr. Brosnan stated.

"However, after the DCA reviewed our application with all the others, they basically said we were a little too ambitious with the plan. It was, they wanted, a singular project not just one massive initiative." Mr. Brosnan continued.

The presentation of these plans in regard to the revised RCP Grant, including the engineer's introduction, only lasted roughly 5 minutes. Including the Mayor's additional comments, the entire topic lasted only roughly 7 and a half minutes. For this big of a development, it was very quick.

Next, the mayor went on to begin talking about The "Smart Moves" grant. This is a second grant application that was submitted recently. This grant would provide Manville with a $15 million grant, and is projected (per the plans) to cover phase 2 of the project, which adds two residential housing buildings to the property. These buildings would allow home ownership through HUD, which targets low to moderate income households. More to come on the analysis of the Smart Moves grant soon.

When the Public Portion of the Council meeting opened, 3 people went to ask questions related to these plans. Here is a break down of the questions asked at the Council Meeting:

"This property that we've discussed at the beginning, where is that?" asked the property owner.

"That's the old Rustic Mall, 12 acres." Responded Mayor Onderko.

"That's the whole piece?" The property owner followed-up.

"That’s the whole piece."

"Are we to the point that we own it or going to own it?"

"I.. I hope that we're gonna.. we're gonna own it." Responded Mayor Onderko.

"How can we plan for something that we don't own yet? I'm just curious.."

The mayor went on to reiterate how the land would be for municipal use with housing. He also stated how this is just a "concept" and that they have the option to condemn the property.

But if the "concept" is changed, wouldn't Manville need to go back through grant approval? Afterall, they had to significantly revise their initial RCP Grant application in order to have it approved. If they strayed from these revised plans, wouldn't the process for approval need to be started over again?

A second resident asked about the presentation: "Is it going to be affordable housing?"

"It's low income. It's low income. There's income limits that'll be used to, uh, to offset, to give advantage..." Mayor Onderko responded.

" are you playing a game with as far as what it's being called?" Asked the resident.

"I'm not playing a game. It's low. It's it's low to moderate income."

"Provided by HUD?"

"Yeah." (It appears the engineer who gave the presentation said this response.)

"So it's low income housing you're talking about." Stated the resident.

"But it's private ownership..." said Mayor Onderko.

A third resident asked: "..and then how do we make up lost tax revenue?"

"Lost tax revenue of what?" Mayor Onderko asked, seeming annoyed in his tone of voice.

"Of the Rustic Mall that we're collecting each year right now." The resident clarified.

"They're paying roughly in the 90 thousand range. But the new stuff there would add to our tax base. The residential housing would be taxable, and anything else that would be included would also pay taxes." (Per the plans, the only "taxable" areas would be the 2 residential buildings, nothing else.)

"So then, what happens if this grant is worth 4.99 million, and the owner won't take that, he wants more than that?"

"I will cross that bridge when we get to it. The bottom line is we have another $15 million for Smart Moves and both grants have pieces in there for property acquisition." Mayor Onderko responded.

No further public comments were made.

While it's true the Smart Moves grant has some property acquisition funds in it, the majority would come from the initial RCP Grant. Per a budget breakdown obtained, it is shown that Manville would acquire the Rustic Mall for $4 million dollars. $2,750,000 from the RCP Grant, and $1,250,000 from the Smart Moves Grant.

The Rustic Mall is currently assessed (in 2024) at $3,360,000. Or $4,275,000 if you include the Bank of America Building in the figures, because the Block/Lot for it is mentioned in the documents. Could this be why the assessments on this property never really increased, as residents continued to face ever-increasing property assessments? So they can get it for less than what it might be actually worth?

In today's real estate market, the land is most likely worth much more than $4 million. Was there a hidden arrangement between the owners and Manville? See our thoughts on that HERE.

Overall, the redevelopment project being proposed for the Rustic Mall is not a good one. Manville stands to lose significant property tax revenue from converting the land into Municipal use. Sure, there are two taxable residential buildings, but that is the minority of the usage per the current plans being shown.

It would have been more advantageous for Manville to have Rustic Mall developed into something similar that was proposed back in 2014, and as recently as 2021.

In 2021, there was more discussion about the Rustic Mall, and those plans were available on the Borough's website as recently as April 30th. It would make much more sense to have a combination of retail and housing, and maximize the tax revenues offered by this land.