Behind the scenes

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    FRANKLIN-With the borough recently having approved its new zoning ordinance, many hope that the former New Jersey Zinc Co. property along both Main and Sterling Streets will be developed into the town's long-awaited Gateway Project. But at the same time, others worry that the real work may only be beginning. Clifton-based developer Anthony Patire, who heads Zinctown Properties, has stated publicly his frustration that his desire to adapt his project to meet the town's desires has been met by numerous alterations from the town along the way. Now, Patire is concerned that the borough may want to declare his property as one in need of redevelopment, a process where a town steps in and acts against the owner/developer, making the choices instead. No town officials have publicly said they favor redevelopment, but there has been talk about it behind the scenes. Officially, Mayor Doug Kistle said, "I'm not for [redevelopment by the borough] right now, and I've asked for a one-year hold on the redevelopment. But the council has not made a decision on it yet. I want to give Mr. Patire the chance to prove himself and at least start this project." "It isn't like Tony Patire has sat around and done nothing," said Thomas H. Prol, Patire's Franklin-based attorney. "He's been working on an application for the last three or four years on this property. Let the guy go in and do what he wants to do." Redevelopment, according to the state's Local Redevelopment and Housing Law statutes, can be claimed for any one of several reasons, including one in which difficulties with "excessive land coverage" and "deleterious land use or obsolete layout" are considered a detriment to community welfare. Some closely associated with borough government have expressed private concerns that Patire may not have the resources necessary to complete the two-tiered project that could take several years to build. Patire disputes that. "I don't think it's a bad thing that the borough officials would question all aspects of this project," said Prol, who told the borough council that "my client is ready, willing and able" to develop thproperty. "But at the same time, I don't think Mr. Patire would engage in the years of ongoing dialogue with municipal officials and borough residents, and committed the tens of thousands of dollars he has if he weren't serious." Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Kelo vs. City of New London (Conn.), in which a resident owning a home along the Thames River in that town is faced with the prospect of losing her home to eminent domain to allow Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to build a new research facility there. Susette Kelo, represented by the Institute for Justice, has claimed that the city's actions violate the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which says the government can take private property only for "public use" and only with just compensation. The U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to begin hearing oral arguments in January, will make a decision that has already been labeled as a "hot property." While the situation differs somewhat from that of Patire's, Prol told the borough council "this is a matter of grave concern to my client" since under a worse-case scenario, redevelopment could see the town executing an "actual taking" of the former zinc company property. "And that's what this New London case is all about," Prol said. "They're actually going in and booting people out of their homes. They're saying, ‘we want to take your land' and use it for so-called public use, but I would argue that it's for a private use." Patire has withdrawn his application from the planning board and has already filed one with the zoning board of adjustment, asking for a use variance for a small plot of land on the zinc tract's upper tier, on which Patire wants to build less than what he is allotted in order to accommodate the surrounding Sterling Street environment. Patire also wants to build non-age restricted housing there. Because of this and two other smaller variances Patire is seeking, the entire project can remain under the jurisdiction of the zoning board and not return to the planning board, Prol said. Redevelopment is something that can only receive final say from the mayor and council, the town says. Kistle, a strong proponent of the Gateway project to revitalize a commercially dormant Main Street, said that developing the top portion in accordance to its new industrial and commercial zoning status is "critical" in terms of having the "right businesses." The lower portion is primarily targeted for residential housing, with at least part of it being age-restricted. Under the new zoning ordinance, "not more than 25 percent of the total number of residential certificates of occupancy may be granted prior to buildout of the upper section." This is designed specifically to prevent any prospective developer from departing the scene too early or building on a piecemeal basis. Prol says he is optimistic that his client and the borough can work together. "I know the mayor and council are considering it, and that gives me pause," the Zinctown attorney said. "But I think at the end of the day, the mayor and council will see reason here. They're a smart group of people, and I don't think they come to a decision lightly. "And I think that under the circumstances here, they will see that in the interest of fairness it would be appropriate to allow Zinctown to go ahead and develop their property in accordance with what the local community wants."