Waterfront redeveloper iStar Financial will not submit a letter in support of the city’s attempt to secure a state Green Acres grant to preserve an area of the northern beachfront, leaving the city with little chance of obtaining the funds, according to preservation proponents.
The move drew a sharp rebuke from Councilwoman Amy Quinn, who said the developer’s unwillingness to provide a letter of support is “unfathomable.”
But iStar’s legal counsel advised the developer that a letter supporting the Green Acres application could jeopardize iStar’s legal rights to develop the property, according to Brian Cheripka, iStar’s vice president of land. The redeveloper has the right to build 15 townhouses on the .6 acre tract, which is in the current Ocean Avenue right-of-way from the sewerage treatment plant north toward the Loch Arbour border [photo of protesters lined up along the outline of the development’s footprint shown above].
Cheripka has previously said that iStar will consider selling its rights in the land provided it “receive fair and just compensation, the same as we are required to provide to other property owners when we acquire property in the waterfront redevelopment area.”
“We aren’t asking them to waive any legal rights whatsoever,” Quinn said. “The letter must only state that iStar is not opposed to their compensation coming from Green Acres funds.”
In an email sent on Tuesday to city officials, Cheripka stated “No appraisal, or any other definitive information regarding long term plans for the area sought to be preserved, was ever provided to our team. While iStar remains open to considering the preservation objective advocated by some, in this situation we are no different than any other owner of development rights. We cannot waive or relinquish any legal rights, to include any existing contractual rights under the waterfront redevelopment plan and redeveloper agreement.”
The developer’s position came as no surprise to Councilman John Loffredo, who said the issue is not as cut and dry as it seems and it is time for the city to move forward with negotiations with iStar to begin to define what they seek as compensation.
“It is what it is, so where are we going to go from here? I knew all along we would have to deal with iStar,” Loffredo said. “We really have to know what it is iStar would want for that property. I don’t know how we can guarantee them what they will ask for, but we have to find out what it is they want,” Loffredo said.
Loffredo is still in favor of the preservation effort “if it is possible,” he said.
Last month, the council voted 5-0 to submit the Green Acres application seeking funds for up to $4.5 million for the purchase.
To date, no certified appraisal has been completed on the property. The Monmouth County Board of Recreation Commissioners ordered an appraisal in the months before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but it has yet to be certified because of valuation issues raised by the storm, county officials have said. Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry has stated that the appraiser preliminarily set a $3.5 million value on the property.
Loch Arbour Mayor Paul Fernicola, who supports preservation of the Asbury land, said that without iStar’s letter of support the Green Acres application will fail. Quinn said she consulted with Fernicola on Monday over the issue.
“The property owner must be a willing seller” for Green Acres funds to be used, Fernicola said in an email to the Sun. He cited his town’s experience last year with Green Acres when it authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire beachfront property.
Without an application in hand, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] press office is not in a position to comment on the issue, as it is “too premature to tell,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hejna.
Fernicola, an attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases, also took issue with iStar’s position against providing a letter supporting the Green Acres application.
“Also, I strongly disagree with iStar’s position that providing a letter of support to Green Acres would prejudice of [sic] iStar’s right with regard to the Bradley Cove property,” said Fernicola.
In a follow-up email to the Sun, Cheripka maintained iStar is not saying they do not want to work with the city on the issue, and in lieu of the specific letter of support the city could submit other documentation with the Green Acres application. “The City’s application could include our public statements, which consistently indicate that we are open to a conversation regarding the preservation of Bradley Cove,” Cheripka said.
“We will continue to push forward,” said Asbury resident Joe Woerner, a leader of the preservation effort. “We don’t accept iStar’s position and we would ask the iStar lawyers to contact the Green Acres department because they clearly misunderstand what the application entails.”
Over 200 people showed up at the county freeholder meeting held in the city June 27 to rally and speak in favor of the site’s preservation as a natural resource.
In a phone conversation with the Sun last week, Monmouth County Freeholder Tom Arnone said he saw no reason the freeholders would not draft a letter in support of the Green Acres application as long as the city remained fully committed to the preservation of the area, which he believes they are.