PROPOSED LAND SWAP HAS MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Lakewood's Township Committee is scheduled this Thursday to approve a land swap between the Township and Yosaif Oppen.


The Committee was scheduled to approve this land swap last month, however, after a resident commented that he had submitted an OPRA request for documents related to this proposed land swap and that the OPRA request was still pending because the Township Clerk had requested an extension, the Committee agreed to hold off on voting on the land swap until this week's meeting.


Based on a review of the documents which have been released by the Township Clerk and obtained by FAA News, there seems to be more questions than answers.


While the actual memo from the Planning Board Administrator is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege, we do see from unredacted emails that the Planning Board Administrator was opposed to this land swap.


We also see Steve Reinman questioning why the sudden change of heart to do a land swap, as he asks "Are you doing swaps anymore?"


First, let's identify the properties in question:


Mr. Oppen currently owns Block 1107 Lot 10, and it is surrounded by a Township parcel 1107 Lot 1. Mr. Oppen is seeking to acquire this Township parcel in exchange for 2 parcels he owns nearby Block 1120 Lot 4 and Block 1136 Lot 7.


Block 1107 is on Essex Street at Vermont Avenue

Block 1120 is the unimproved block of Union Avenue and Caldwell Avenue

Block 1136 is the unimproved block of Turin Avenue and Caldwell Avenue


• Here is the initial land swap request


December 28, 2021

To: Patrick Donnelly, Township Manager


I am looking to do a land swap with the Township.


I have a parcel of land 1107/10 which is surrounded by a Township parcel 1107/1. The Township's parcel is encumbered by wetlands. I would like to acquire this parcel.


I can purchase it from the Township at a fair price, or I can propose a land swap. I have 2 parcels nearby 1120/4 and 1136/7. I would swap those 2 for 1107/1.


There is value to the Township to swap these parcels, as it is in a preservation area. This would allow the Township to own more land than can be preserved. I have attached a map showing what the Township currently owns (green) and what I propose to swap (orange). As you can see it helps to fill the blocks for further Township preservation or public use.


Thank you for the consideration,


Yosaif Oppen


• The request was received by the office of the Municipal Manager, and on January 5, 2022 it was forwarded to the Township Tax Assessor Cassandra Johnson, Planning Board Administrator Ally Morris, and Attorney Harold Hensel, asking for their review and comments.


• The following emails were then redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege:


1) 1/05/22 11:22am from Ally Morris to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel

2) 1/05/22 11:28am from Patrick Donnelly to Harold Hensel

3) 1/05/22 11:28am from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly

4) 1/05/22 11:29am from Ally Morris to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel

5) 1/05/22 11:49am from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly

6) 1/05/22 12:11pm from Ally Morris to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel

7) 1/05/22 12:25pm from Ally Morris to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel


• January 17 2:25pm email from Cindy Schwartz, office of the Manager, to Patrick Donnelly, Manager


Block 1107 Lot 1 is assessed at $780,000


Block 1136 Lot 7 is assessed at $126,000

Block 1120 Lot 4 is assessed at $11,000


[At this point we learn that the Township's parcel is assessed well over the assessed value of Mr. Oppen's lots]


• January 18 7:46am email from Patrick Donnelly to Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• January 18 8:55am email from Steven Reinman to Patrick Donnelly


Are you doing swaps anymore? Also, after the massive preservation of land in the Plan Endorsement process, is there still a need for more? I don't have any particular issues with it, and he does seem to buy at value. Are the pieces he is seeking undersized or do they have to go to public auction?


• January 18 4:06pm email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• January 31 2:56pm email from Cindy Schwartz to Patrick Donnelly


Mr. Oppen called for an update for his land swap request... It looks like Ally objected to it, but we do not have a response from the Committee. 


• February 7 2:19pm email from Patrick Donnelly to Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• February 17 letter from Harold Hensel to Yosaif Oppen


Dear Mr. Oppen,


Our offices are the Township Attorneys for Lakewood. I am in receipt of your December 28, 2021 letter to Manager Donelly proposing a land exchange... 


We have researched this proposal and are respectfully requesting the reason for your proposed exchange. Township owned Block 1107 Lot 1 is one of the many parcels on a conservation restriction Deed the Township transferred to the Department of Environmental Protection back in 2017. This encumbrance, while it does allow the Township to sell the property, seriously precludes its development. The property can only be used for "tree save" purposes inasmuch as it is conserved for open space.


You may be able to acquire the property and utilize it pursuant to the Township's Noncontiguous Cluster Lot ordinance, to combine it with other properties not adjacent to it to utilize that parcel for tree save purposes while clearing the noncontiguous lot. The property cannot otherwise be developed.


Our Planning Department notes, moreover, that while the property is 1.95 acres, it is encumbered by wetlands.


I would therefore ask that you advise our offices as to whether you wish to continue to request this land exchange given the significant restrictions on the property you seek to acquire.


• February 18 9:00am email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• February 18 9:55am email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• March 10 10:19am Email from Cindy Schwartz to Patrick Donnelly


Yosef Oppen, Block 1107 Lot 1 - Zoned Conservation Deed


Legal advice shortened: [completely redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege]

Tax assessment: was 780,000 (wet lands) value adjusted 195,000 for 2022


• March 10 1:18pm email from Patrick Donnelly to Cindy Schwartz


Yosef Oppen Block 1107 Lot 1


Need answer today on this


• March 25 1:13pm email from Ben Stein to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• May 4 10:26am email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• May 4 1:47pm email from Patrick Donnelly to Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• May 5 10:24am email from Cindy Schwartz to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• May 11 11:16am email from Cindy Schwartz to Jeff Staiger and Ally Morris


Please see the attached Legal Memo from Harold and the land swap request for Mr. Oppen. The Committee asked if you could also provide your input on this request, as they are looking to make a decision soon and wanted to have your analysis as well.


[Legal Memo was redacted due to "Advantage to Bidders"]


• May 11 11:20am email response from Ally Morris to Cindy Schwartz


Hi Cindy. I believe we reviewed this back in January. See attached.


[Legal Memo was redacted due to "Advantage to Bidders"]


• May 11 11:27am email response from Cindy Schwartz to Ally Morris and Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to "Advantage to Bidders"


• May 11 3:48pm email from Cindy Schwartz to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• June 8 11:01am email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• July 6 11:20am email from Harold Hensel to Patrick Donnelly - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


• July 6 12:24pm email from Cindy Schwartz to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel - email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege


So....


Mr. Hensel noted that the property's conservation deed restriction seriously precludes its development, and it can be used only for "tree save" purposes.


For reference, back in 2017, the Township was seeking State Plan Endorsement on its new Master Plan, which would allow the increased density the Township wanted to permit on the Eagle Ridge golf course and the Flea Market. As a condition for receiving this State Plan Endorsement, State officials required that the Township place a conservation deed restriction on approximately 700 acres of property. This restriction "subjects all of the property ... to be permanently protected from all disturbances".


The Township parcel is included in a conservation deed restricted area.


There is an email response on March 25 1:13pm email from Ben Stein to Patrick Donnelly and Harold Hensel. This email is redacted due to Attorney-Client privilege. This email likely has the confidential response to the question of "what do you want to do to this property?"


Planning Board Administrator Ally Morris's memo regarding this land swap is also redacted under Attorney-Client privilege, however, from emails from Harold Hensel and Cindy Schwartz, we see that Ms. Morris was opposed to this land swap.


A major question is, how much of the land is wetlands and is it really completely non-buildable?


The legal advice as to these questions was redacted, however, we do see that based on the wetlands, the assessed value was adjusted from 780,000 down to 195,000.


Harold Hensel's letter to Mr. Oppen only opens us now to more questions:


If the property is indeed completely non-buildable, why is it assessed at $195,000? That seems like quite a high amount of money for land which is completely non-buildable. The deed restriction does not even permit the lot to be included in the calculation of open space that the Township requires on new developments.


So, if it is indeed non-buildable, why is he paying for it? If it is partially buildable or otherwise useful, how much of the land is usable and how was the $195,000 assessment calculated??





2 comments:

  1. Doesn’t smell kosherSeptember 15, 2022 at 12:48 AM

    It sure looks like there’s all kinds of dealing going on with public property, but the taxpayers are being kept out the loop. At this point, where the committeemen plan to vote on “swapping” our lands, we should not be deliberately obstructed with various excuses from understanding the wisdom of this decision. Perhaps, somebody would be willing to pay more into the public coffers when the value of the deal is made known. These discussions should not be taking place behind the scenes. The public must be apprised of the exact details. It wasn’t too long ago that a portion of a major Lakewood land swapping report was released to the public, and what we all learned was indeed shocking. The committee must absolutely provide full transparency with this new swap deal!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Doesn’t smell kosherSeptember 15, 2022 at 12:51 AM

    It sure looks like there’s all kinds of dealing going on with public property, but the taxpayers are being kept out the loop. At this point, where the committeemen plan to vote on “swapping” our lands, we should not be deliberately obstructed with various excuses from understanding the wisdom of this decision. Perhaps, somebody would be willing to pay more into the public coffers when the value of the deal is made known.

    These discussions should not be taking place behind the scenes. The public must be apprised of the exact details.

    It wasn’t too long ago that a portion of a major Lakewood land swapping report was released to the public, and what we all learned then shocked the public conscience. The committee must absolutely provide full transparency with this new land swap deal!

    ReplyDelete