"I checked with the HMDC [Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission]," Bueckner said last week. "The Lincoln Avenue Extension is a paved piece of property, not the swampland the mayor claims it is, and it's almost a half acre, not a tenth of an acre."
On Aug. 22, the Town Council introduced an ordinance that would vacate a street called Lincoln Avenue Extension, claiming that even though the town had designated the street for future use, it had never acted on it. Hartz Mountain, proposing to construct a $40 million eyeglass factory on two pieces of property on either side of the extension, had asked the town for it. Hartz had owned the extension to begin with, but the town had taken it over in anticipation of making it a full-fledged road. During the Sept. 12 council meeting, Bueckner argued that the property had value and that the town wasn't in the business of giving corporations property.
Mayor Dennis Elwell said that the road had originally been owned by Hartz and that the town had taken over the property in anticipation of a possible street.
"We are not giving Hartz property," he said.
After nearly an hour of discussion and public comment, the Town Council voted 4-1 at its Sept. 12 meeting to vacate the land to Hartz Mountain Industries. Councilman Joseph Kickey was not at the meeting. Councilman John Reilly abstained because his wife is an employee of Hartz. Bueckner voted against the ordinance.
Other council members argued that the Hartz has been a good neighbor, even going so far as to lease the Duck Pond to Secaucus for use as a park. Bueckner, however, pointed out that Hartz also forced the town two years ago to take over and maintain 11 roads it constructed, including Meadowlands Parkway.
Town needs to get facts straight
Although dirt roads exist in the area in question, the Lincoln Avenue Extension is not one of them, Bueckner said, noting that the property in question is located in the highly-developed section off Enterprise Avenue South, not in the more open area at the foot of Jefferson Avenue.
Maps show that the property is roughly 4.5 acres in size.
At the Sept. 12 meeting, Dawn McAdam and George Brommer (both independent candidates for council) questioned the validity of information given at the introduction on Aug. 22, saying that council members seemed to play down the size and potential value of the property.
"I think this council should have explained everything better when it first introduced this ordinance," said McAdam. "I think also the council should have had its facts straight - not telling us it is dirt road when it is paved and a tenth of an acre when it is really a half acre."
However, Mayor Elwell said that the size or value of property means nothing since Hartz owns the property and always had, and that the town simply had reserved the land for a possible road.
"Since we have no need of the road, the property goes back to Hartz," he said.
Elwell also said this was not an uncommon practice and that the town had done this before, several times in the early 1990s and once in 1998.
"We vacated Hartz Way in 1998 and it was an unanimous vote," he said, noting Bueckner had voted for that move without questioning it.
Bueckner said that in the situation with vacating the Lincoln Avenue Extension, the town should have at least negotiated with Hartz in order to get them to provide some improvements in town, in exchange.
"This wouldn't be a payment for the property," he said. "It would just show that Hartz is a good neighbor."
Town Attorney Frank Leanza said "holding the property hostage" would be illegal because it is Hartz's property to begin with, and that Bruckner's suggestions made during discussions over the property could be seen as a demand for payment.
"Had you brought up the matter at another time, instead of during the public hearing on this, I might have agreed with you," Leanza told Bueckner. "But since you've brought this up in the context of vacating the street, we can't ask them for anything." Mike Gonnelli, HMDC commissioner and superintendent of the Secaucus Department of Public Works, said the HMDC asked Hartz to use the vacated Lincoln Avenue Extension as the entrance to the under-construction eye glass factory in order to avoid dangerous traffic situations on Secaucus Road.
In exchange for HMDC approval, Hartz has agreed to make flood control and traffic improvements, Gonnelli said. Hartz, he said, has also agreed to install two traffic lights, one at Enterprise Avenue South and one at Enterprise Avenue North. In addition Hartz will also undertake flood control improvements along Secaucus Road - previously the subject of a dispute with the town, which threatened to have the matter sent to court. As part of the on-site flood control, Hartz has agreed to build holding areas that will keep water from flooding local drainage system.
At the Sept. 12 meeting, the Town Council also introduced an amendment to its capital improvement budget, bringing the cost to $1.2 million. Along with providing various needs for departments, the change allocates $500,000 towards the new library if bids should come in above the money the town and library board have set aside.
In other ordinances introduced, the council increased the daily salary for crossing guards, matching the union workers' increase of 3.5 percent. The council also proposed to ban parking for the west side of Cedar Avenue during snow emergencies in order to allow snowplow access to the narrow, dead end street.
The council also acknowledged the 1999 municipal audit, which had only one recommendation - a long-standing bookkeeping issue that town officials said will be resolved next year. Two years ago, the audit had as many as 30 recommendations, most of which were in the court. Last year, the auditors had about 12, again centered around the municipal court and the recreation department.
On the consent agenda
The Town Council voted to approve the final payment of $850,000 for the Old Mill property at 300 Millridge Road. This makes it possible for the HMDC to begin renovations that will turn building into a nature center. The council also passed resolutions that:
Authorized the hiring, pay raise and transfer of personnel at the Secaucus swim center. Town Administrator Anthony Iacono said this is to accommodate the extra month of pool service. The town has continued service through September. Up until last year, the pool closed after Labor Day.
Continued a leave of absence for buildings and grounds worker Robert West.
Authorized Mayor Elwell to sign statements of consent for approval of sewer hookups for the Hilton Garden Hotel at 875 Paterson Plank Road. The state Department of Environmental Protection now requires that municipal leaders be made aware of sewerage plant capacity. In some towns, utility authorities have allowed hookups beyond what their sewerage plant can handle. Elwell said Secaucus is currently at half capacity, pumping about 2.7 million gallons of sewerage a day.
Authorized the deletion of $305.96 tax balance due on the property where the new north end parking lot has been built. This was the tax owed the town when the town purchased the property.
Authorized the advertisement and for the receipt of bids for lease of three new public vehicles.
Authorized the amended to the profession service contract with tax attorney Peter Zipp. The Town Council agreed to provide $50,000 town its lawsuit against Jersey City. The town is claiming Jersey City's abatement program causes Secaucus and other towns to pay more than their fair share in county taxes. Iacono said the town has invited other towns to join the suit, which would allow them to defray some of the legal costs. He said North Bergen has already given $10,000 towards the legal costs. North Bergen could expect to receive $2.6 million if the suit is successful. Secaucus would received $2.2 million. Elwell said attorneys fighting Secaucus believe Secaucus will settle. He said he won't rule out a settlement, but the town would negotiate from a position of strength, and not be pressured into an early settlement.
Authorized a salary of $7,000 for Welfare Board investigator John Habach for the year 2000.