Last month, YIMBY broke the story for a major site to be developed at 115 River Road, in Edgewater, New Jersey. While we initially reported the address at 615 River Road, that was incorrect; however, the developer of 615 River Road has now filed a lawsuit in Federal Court, alleging that a series of “corrupt transactions” led to the Borough’s vote to seize the property by eminent domain back in September, in a secret bid to transfer the lot to developer Fred Daibes, who is behind 115 River Road.
The Complaint describes many occurrences that seem slightly coincidental. Edgewater’s Mayor, Michael McPartland, lives in a luxury apartment in a building owned by Daibes, and pays a reduced rent. Two members on the Borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment also have close ties to the developer, with Mark Klein and Jeffrey Mathieu having “engaged in multiple real-estate transactions with Daibes entities using funds provided by Daibes-owned Mariner’s Bank.”
As detailed in the Complaint,
Daibes also exercises control in the Borough by “appointing” members of Edgewater’s land-use boards. Current Zoning Board of Adjustment (“ZBA”) members Mark Klein and Jeffrey Mathieu have close relationships with Daibes Entities. Mathieu was a Vice-President of a Daibes Entity for nearly 20 years, and both Klein and Mathieu have engaged in multiple real-estate transactions with Daibes Entities using funds provided by Daibes-owned Mariner’s Bank. Similarly, Daibes ensures that Mariner’s Bank is quick to make loans to local officials, including Councilpersons Anthony Bartolomeo, Victor Monte, and Dolores Lawlor; Planning Board member Kathleen D’Errico; ZBA attorney Denise Travers and her mother-in- law, Councilwoman Duane Fischetti; former Mayor Bryan Christiansen; construction official, building and housing inspector, Land Use Administrator, and Planning Board member, John Candelmo; and others.
Upon information and belief, among the Edgewater officials who have received improper, or improperly concealed, benefits from Daibes are Mayor Michael McPartland and Councilpersons Bartolomeo, Monte, Vidal, Fischetti, and Henwood, all of whom are reliably reported to be “in the pocket” of Daibes. In addition, upon information and belief, Candelmo, Denise Travers, former Mayor Bryan Christiansen and his brother, current ZBA Chairman Robert Christiansen, Councilwoman Fischetti, and former Councilwoman Lois Fein all have had business and/or familial relationships with Daibes that rendered them reliable supporters of Daibes’ development projects.
The party behind the suit is 615 River Road Partners, a joint venture by the Maxal Group and EnviroFinance Group, based in Denver. The developers bought the former Hess Site, totaling 18.7 acres, in 2014, and have submitted plans that would generate an estimated $12.4 million in annual tax revenue for the Borough.
Besides the tax revenue, 615 River Road would yield 1,873 apartments split between seven buildings, ranging from 18 to 25 floors in height, as well as 60,000 square feet of retail space, all designed by FXFOWLE. Plans also include extensive green space and new parks, a waterfront promenade, as well as rooftop gardens atop the podiums of the new mid- and high-rises. There would also be 300 affordable apartments.
As the renderings show, the scope is expansive, though the vertical impact of the project will be relatively small. But, while the Borough has voiced vociferous NIMBY complaints against the height and scope of 615 River Road, Daibes plans’ for 115 River Road are about the same square footage, but three times taller. And, prior to YIMBY’s reporting, no-one had any idea that 115 River Road, which has already been rezoned thanks to an upzoning passed by the Borough in early October, was even in the pipeline.
Coincidentally, or not, the upzoning was approved only two weeks after the Borough voted to seize 615 River Road using eminent domain.
The Complaint, and the situation on the ground, paints a picture that is highly unfavorable to the Borough’s elected officials. Besides benefiting from Daibes directly, they have now waged a war against a competing developer, and have voted to seize 615 River Road on the basis that it should become a park with riverfront access, despite the fact that plans already include provisions for these amenities.
The Mayor also contends that 615 River Road, which is the most valuable property in the borough, should be designated for the relocation of Edgewater’s public works garage. The current public works garage is located adjacent to The Alexander, one of Daibes properties, which is coincidentally where the Mayor lives. The federal complaints alleges that if the borough moves the garage to 615 River Road, the land adjacent to the current public works garage will be sold to Daibes and rezoned, so he can add another 320 units to The Alexander.
As described in the Complaint, it is not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where the seized property at 615 River Road is transferred to the elected officials’ patron for pennies on the dollar, resulting in Daibes’ further consolidation of power within the Borough.
While the situation at 615 River Road is fishy on its own, when viewing the property’s seizure within the lens of other new developments in Edgewater, it seems even more dubious. And when considering that 115 River Road was upzoned by local elected officials who are receiving monetary benefits from Daibes directly or otherwise, a conflict of interest seems evident.
Finally, as reported in The New York Times by Charles Bagli back on October 4th, and detailed in the Complaint,
Daibes unsuccessfully sought to buy the Property [615 River Road] and told representatives of Hess Corporation (“Hess”), the prior owner of the Property, that if Hess did not sell the Property to him, he would ensure that it would “never be built on.” Daibes even directly threatened Plaintiff’s representatives that they “should have come to me in the beginning. I own and built this town. Now it will be condemned; I am your neighbor on all sides.” The New York Times has reported that Daibes “boasts that he has either built or been a partner in every project in Edgewater over the past two decades.”
According to a source, Daibes’ is currently modifying the design for 115 River Road, however the unit count will remain the same, in accordance with the unanimously-approved upzoning. Plans for 615 River Road are on hold while the suit is pending in U.S. Federal District Court, in Newark.