"I'm not going to say it's political, but it is," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said as she launched into a lengthy tirade.
Last week, the council failed to advance two ordinances needed for the 212-unit South Avenue Gateway project that was first announced over a year ago. On Monday, developer Joseph Forgione of JMF Properties described the project for the council and urged support of a 30-year "payment in lieu of taxes" plan vital to its success.
Joseph ForgioneEconomic Development Director Carlos Sanchez told the council, "Time is of the essence," saying the PILOT is needed for financing the project, and Forgione has contracts on 11 properties that would make up the redevelopment site. Sanchez said if the site stays as it is, the city will only get $3.5 million in taxes over the next 30 years, but if developed, the city will receive three times that amount.
The meeting was about to end with no action taken on the ordinances when Council President Bridget Rivers said although she thought the presentation was excellent and the project was great for Plainfield, she was "not comfortable" with the 30-year PILOT.
She asked how it would impact the school system and said, "You guys are basically looking for yuppies."
She said she had asked Sanchez to include the council in the process and "there should have been transparency."
Alleging the project was "shoved down my throat," she said when she did research on PILOTs, "It aches my body."
Councilwoman Rebecca Williams spoke in favor of the project, citing the $50 million investment and the PILOT income.
"This is how cities transform," she said, calling approval "a wonderful legacy for us as a council."
Taylor said there was no question that the city wanted development, but added, "The council is an entity that you have to work with."
In numerous ways, Taylor scolded the administration:
"I'm sick of this - if you want to work with us, act like it."
"You had a whole year to get us involved."
"I'm tired of this - I'm tired of this game."
"I'm going to talk until we get to the place where we win-win."
Rivers told Sanchez the PILOT might need to be renegotiated and referred him to Councilwoman Diane Toliver, who heads the council's Finance Committee.
The council had previously authorized hiring of a redevelopment counsel and a finance consultant to review the PILOT.
Councilman Cory Storch was out of town but had asked to take part by phone. After City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh explained that the ordinances had not been introduced as new items, Storch moved to put them on the agenda, but no one seconded the motion.
Meanwhile, Forgione asked to speak, but Rivers said no.
Councilwoman Tracey Brown called the project "excellent," but said she felt the administration had been disrespectful.
"We need to have as many meetings as possible to get this project off the ground," she said.
Finally Forgione was allowed to speak. Though taking responsibility, he said, "We've been at this for two years."
He said by going through the redevelopment process (which requires numerous council approvals), he felt the governing body had been informed. Noting his application was up for approval at Thursday's Planning Board meeting, he said, "I don't know if we should even continue," but offered to do anything "to make you feel more comfortable."
City Administrator Rick Smiley also offered to do anything possible and said there could be a special meeting. He pointed out that the ordinances had to pass on two readings, so there would be another month to answer questions.
Rivers said she asked Sanchez a month ago to reach out to Toliver, because she is on the Finance Committee.
"We're a rock and a hard place now," she said.
Forgione offered to bring his "full team" to the council, meaning all the expert witnesses he had already brought to the Planning Board.
Toliver said, "We just need a little bit more information," adding, "we should have been spoon-fed."
"This is your expertise," she told Forgione. "You don't know about my expertise."
At 11 p.m., Forgione repeated his apologies and said, "At this hour, I am pleading."
He asked for the ordinances to be tabled, but Rivers said, "There is nothing to table - it's not on the agenda."
Though acknowledging Forgione's distress, Rivers indicated he had just got caught up in the situation.
"Is there a contract, a blue print?" Toliver asked, talking about "small print."
"Back up and bring to the council everything about the PILOT," she said.
(The council had received the 28-page PILOT agreement in last week's packet.)
With more promises from Forgione, the meeting was adjourned.