TAX CUTS FOR FRIENDS: LAKEWOOD TOWNSHIP OFFICIALS PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS TO SECURE LUCRATIVE TAX BREAKS FOR YOSEF KOTLER'S OFFICE BUILDINGS



Lakewood Township officials continue to work hard on multiple fronts to ensure a smooth sailing for Yosef Kotler to receive tax cuts for two office buildings, despite the Planning Board previously rejecting this proposal, and despite there being some annoying red tape at the State level.


This heroic goal is now one big step closer. 


Pursuant to an agreement that was arranged with the Township years ago, all buildings constructed in the Cedarbridge Redevelopment area will be entitled to certain benefits including long term tax cuts known as Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT).


Yosef Kotler has already developed an office building at 1515 Pine Street, and a second office building is being planned next door as well. These office buildings are across Pine Street, outside of the designated Cedarbridge Redevelopment area.


That would mean no freebie tax cuts.


Hmm...


During the construction of 1515 Pine Street, the Township Committee introduced Ordinance 2022-015 which stated that the Governing Body has determined that due to evolving land use conditions it has since become necessary to amend the Redevelopment Plan to include Block 855.01 Lots 19 and 26.01 into the designated redevelopment area and recast these lots as a part of the Cedarbridge Redevelopment Area entitled to all benefits of said designation.


The purpose of this Ordinance was to quietly include Yosef Kotler's buildings into the "freebie tax cut zone."


As this is considered a land use amendment ordinance, the Township Committee was legally required to forward the introduced Ordinance to the Planning Board for their review.


At the Planning Board, Mr. Kotler was represented by Attorney Adam Pfeffer Esq. and Planner Christine Cofone.


Ms. Cofone presented to the Board a report that she wrote up in support of providing the freebie tax cut.


The report stated: The study area is diminutive in size, will not lead to other commercial uses along the roadway, and is essentially a donut hole in the context of surrounding areas.... Importantly, to the south of the study area is a fully developed and built up residential area, and any future redevelopment action on the small study area will not disturb that area.


After a public outcry, the Planning Board strongly rejected the proposal, saying that it's simply unfair to long-standing existing businesses in town who continuously need to compete with new businesses who have received tax cuts and can operate with lower overhang.


Mayor Coles added that "the Committee is dropping the proposal because Cedarbridge Corporate Campus officials have opposed the proposal."


Magically, just one year later, as previously reported here on FAA News, back in August 2023, the Committee apparently changed course and reintroduced the proposal, however, this time around they slyly crafted a way to avoid any pushback from the Planning Board!


The Committee adopted Ordinance 2023-026 granting a typical 5 year tax abatement to the office building already constructed at 1515 Pine Street.


(5 year tax abatements are structured so in the first year they pay 0%, then an additional 20% each year for the next 4 years.)


The big catch this time around is that unlike Cedarbridge Plan Amendments which are land use ordinances and required to go to the Planning Board for their review, standard 5 year abatements do not require Planning Board approval.


VoilĂ ! No more headaches from needing to deal with the Planning Board's "meddling" with their grand plans!


(Ironically, just a few months prior, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the matter of Kevin Malanga v. Township of West Orange, finding that in order for a municipality to designate property for redevelopment under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, "a municipality must demonstrate that certain specified problems exist with the current site and that they cause actual detriment or harm to the welfare of the community." Hmm... Did any of these factors exist on Pine Street??)


However, this was not the final step in the process of this tax abatement.


In order to be eligible for a tax abatement, property improvements must be located in an Urban Enterprise Zone. Only a portion of the office building lot is situated in the UEZ.


Once again, Township officials heroically came to the rescue!


As previously reported here on FAA News, Township officials submitted an application to the State to expand the UEZ Map to include the balance of the lot of this new office building.


(In fact, the LDC even spent money for an engineer to restructure the UEZ map!)


However, the application to the State to formally adopt the new zone boundary map hit some major red tape issue - a statutory requirement to submit a 5-year plan when applying for boundary changes.


James Simmons, the former State UEZ Director, was kind enough to waive a lot of red tape. The Township's UEZ staff were hopeful that the new State UEZ Director James Slaughter would take the same lenient approach and permit Lakewood to proceed with boundary modification even without submitting a 5-year plan.


However, turns out that the new State UEZ Director is not as nice as his predecessor and he did require Lakewood to submit a 5-year plan in order to get the new boundaries map approved.


So, Township officials got to work awarding a $25,000 contract to Triad Associates of Vineland to develop the important 5-year plan. (Hey, what are friends for if not for doing all that's necessary to get you a tax cut?)


These heroic efforts are finally paying off.


The work on the Lakewood UEZ 5-year Zone Development Plan and Zone Modifications is complete aside for minor adjustments to the Zone Development Plan narrative that will be made to reflect the mapping revisions.


On Thursday afternoon, the Township Committee formally accepted these change recommendations and authorized submission of the final draft of the 5-year Zone Development Plan and Zone Boundaries Modifications to the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for approval and adoption.


Those important tax cuts are now some major steps forward!


Nice job!


Coolest part of it all is that the Township took this "5 year Zone Development Plan and Zone Boundaries Modifications" thing pretty seriously so everything would look real legit.


Township officials enlisted the assistance of local business professionals to give input on current and future commercial development in the Lakewood UEZ area. They also made many public announcements to encourage local Lakewood township businesses not currently located within the Lakewood UEZ zone boundaries to express their desire to be included in the zone.


After the Township fulfilled its statutory obligation called the “Review Period," they posted online the draft of the 5-year plan and map and invited representatives of diverse Statewide or regional business organizations that represent the interests of minority businesses, and members of the public to review and make comments regarding the 5-year plan and map.


Wow! All that work just to get this important tax abatement.


Public records indicate that the new office building is assessed $8,651,300. Without any tax abatement their annual property tax bill would be $216,801.56.


As previously reported here on FAA News, Lakewood's Township Committee last year granted short and long-term tax abatements to 36 new commercial buildings around town. This resulted in a loss of over $5.77 million in tax revenue for this year alone. As a result of all these tax cuts, the Committee increased our taxes nearly $4 million!


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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

TIME FOR CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Miller and Lichtenstein got their big houses and should go retire!!!!

ab said...

Let's all reflect, why are these politicians re-elected all the time. Unless someone analyzes the root cause and overcomes the psyche, no one will win against them, no matter how many people rant in social media.
This is fixable, but requires the right resources.

Anonymous said...

Just another day of good ol' kotler klan koach, everyone knows the rules.

Anonymous said...

BTW, this is not the only freebie they got. They also got free land.

Their property originally only fronted Spruce Street. At one point they wanted to build an office building plus a day care. The residential neighbors were very unhappy with all the traffic coming to their block.

So... the Kotlers told the Township that they simply wanted to be good neighbors so perhaps the Township could help.

The Township did help, by donating the land fronting Pine Street. This allowed them to build the driveways on Pine instead of Spruce.

Additionally, the Township also donated the land for part of the parking lot (because once they were on Pine Street, they told the Township that they will allow EMS to park in their lot overnight).