The Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 7:00 p.m. on February 3, 2022 in person and via Zoom Webinar and in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Patrick Rizzuto presiding.
STATEMENT OF COMPLIANCE
Adequate notice of this special meeting has been provided to the public and the press on February 1, 2022 and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-7. The purpose of the Special Meetings will be: to discuss repealing the purchase of real property commonly known as 8-20 Black Creek Drive and identified as Lot 12, Block 391 on the tax map of the Township of Vernon. Action May Be Taken
Present were Council Members Brain Lynch, Natalie Buccieri and Council President Patrick Rizzuto. Also present were Mayor Howard Burrell, Business Administrator Charles Voelker, Municipal Clerk Marcy Gianattasio and Township Attorney Marlin Townes.
Council Members Furrey and Shortway were not present.
SALUTE TO THE FLAG
Council President Rizzuto led the assemblage in the salute to the flag.
PUBLIC COMMENTS (For Current Agenda Items Only, Limited to 3 minutes per person)
Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to open the meeting to Public Comments.
MOVED: Brian Lynch
SECOND: Natalie Buccieri
All members present voted in favor.
Shawn Mazur - Vernon Township, has concerns about the contract for the Baldwin property and is supportive of ordinance #22-04.
Jessica Paladini - Vernon Township, is in support of ordinance #22-04 to repeal the purchase of 8-20 Black Creek Drive.
Robert Knecht - Vernon Township, is against ordinance #22-04 because a contract has been signed.
Peg Distasi - Glenwood, is in support of ordinance #22-04 to repeal the purchase of 8-20 Black Creek Drive.
Ivy Mectin - Vernon Township, is in support of ordinance #22-04 because of the contamination on the property.
Frank Pietrowski - is in support of ordinance #22-04 to repeal the purchase of 8-20 Black Creek Drive.
Ann Larson - Vernon Township, is in support of ordinance #22-04 to repeal the purchase of 8-20 Black Creek Drive.
Steve Dunlop - Vernon Township, is in support of ordinance #22-04 to repeal the purchase of 8-20 Black Creek Drive. He feels that the current Council should go to court and get a stay till this can be done properly.
Bill Derstra - Vernon Valley Lakes, asked the Council if they are prepared for the ramifications if they stop this contract. He also feels that the Council is rushing this through.
Walter Marsico - Vernon Township, asked the Council to repeal ordinance #21-06. He supports ordinance #22-04.
Seeing no other members of the public wishing to speak, Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to close the meeting for Public Comments.
MOTION: Brian Lynch
SECOND: Natalie Buccieri
All members present were in favor.
INTRODUCTION/1ST READING OF PROPOSED ORDINANCE
Ordinance #22-04: An Ordinance of the Township of Vernon, County of Sussex, State of New Jersey, Repealing Ordinance 21-06 Authorizing Purchase of Real Property Commonly Known as 8-20 Black Creek Drive and Identified As Lot 12, Block 391 on the Tax Map of the Township of Vernon
Council President Rizzuto read ordinance #22-04.
Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to introduce Ordinance #22-04
MOVED: Natalie Buccieri
SECOND: Brian Lynch
A roll call vote was taken:
AYES: Buccieri, Lynch, Rizzuto
ABSENT: Furrey, Shortway
Motion passed to introduce Ordinance #22-04
Council Member Lynch explained that at a Council meeting in December 2021 that he and Council President Rizzuto asked the Council at the time if they would table ordinance #21-06 which involved the purchase of this property. We asked that because we saw some glaring inconsistencies in the whole project. Mr. Lynch said that the bid specs that went out for the project said the company that was supposed to build this park was already supposed to have built three parks. Council President Rizzuto asked about this and Council Member Furrey said they built hundreds of parks. We come to find out that this company didn't build one pump track, they did build a pump track that was with a skate park in San Francisco. Council Member Lynch said that there is an issue with contaminated property. He does not understand what the rush is to get this going. At the time Council Member Shortway was so proud and happy to get ordinance #21-06 passed but he did not do his job. What we were elected to do is to go over all of this stuff and make sure these things don't happen. Make sure we don't hire a company that is inferior to our bid specifications and make sure we do not buy a piece of property that is contaminated. Council Member Lynch is not against the pump track, he is against buying property that is contaminated and he is against hiring companies to do work that are not up to the standards that we put out there. At the same meeting Council Member Lynch asked the Council to table this ordinance, the Council tabled an ordinance about a gun safety shooting range because of two errant accidents that happened here in Vernon. Council Member Lynch does not understand what the thinking is and why there is such a rush to get this pushed through and what is going on that we do not know about. This country, state and town were all built on compromise, so let us compromise before we get in over our heads. We have a $30,000,000 albatross called the town center or Main Street.
Council Member Buccieri said the purchase of the property is for walking trails. When Mayor Burrell was running for office, she asked him in a public forum if he supported the expansion of trails in Vernon at the taxpayer's expense. She wanted his views as she was strongly against using Vernon tax dollars to pay for additional trails in our town. Council Member Buccieri explained that before she decided to run for Council she spoke during public comment and expressed her views regarding adding taxpayer funded trails to our town and that she was against taxpayer funded trails. During her champaign she was approached by many Vernon residents and was asked her position on the issue. Her answer was always the same, she does not support taxpayer funded trails in our town. We have the Appalachian Trail and many more trails in Vernon and her family has used all of these trails to hike, bicycle and snowshoe. We have numerous opportunities for recreation in our town and that is what really makes Vernon beautiful and a great place to live. In fact, she did not support the continuation of the Green Way Action Committee, not because she doesn't value volunteers, or value trails, or green properties or outdoor recreation. She felt it would be hypocritical of herself to support a committee whose expressed purpose is to increase the trails in our town while she would not support financing their effort. Council Member Buccieri said now all of the information that has come to light about the Baldwin property that is specifically being purchased to increase trails in our town, which she has not supported. That project has significant environmental issues, has been involved with the DEP and has had some type of remediation at least twice to our current knowledge. Council Member Buccieri said she cannot in good conscience support using tax dollars to buy a piece of property that could potentially hold the taxpayers of Vernon to future environmental issues. Council Member Lynch made a point when he asked, would you buy that with your own money. She would not purchase this property with her own money and she would not agree to purchase it with taxpayer funds. From what she understands is that the owner of the property is responsible for any toxic cleanup, even if we are not the ones who put or dumped that material there. The owner of the property inherits any problems from the property.
Council President Rizzuto commented that on two occasions, he met with the Mayor following being seated on the Council and they discussed a number of items including the Baldwin purchase. He offered to ask for a way they could compromise and there was no movement. Prior to being seated on the Council he went to meetings and he asked the Council to table awarding the bids and that was refused. When the bid opening was happening, he asked at that time that the bids be delayed because we had not taken possession of the property and that was refused. Right now, we are sitting with a piece of property that has undergone remediation for a second time and we are awaiting the report so that the property can be closed on. Council President Rizzuto said when we look at the ordinance which becomes the parameter of the contract, indeed there are differences between what the ordinance says and what the contract permitted. The ordinance was very clear that the township authorizes the purchase of this property for $289,000.00 only after: (1) obtaining a clear Phase I environmental assessment. That occurring you would think that the Mayor would go back to the Council and say that we do not have a clear Phase 1 and ask if we want to proceed and how much are we willing to spend to move to a Phase 2. That was not done and over $9000 was paid to the remediator without the approval from the Council. This is two areas of major concern that the sales contract does not mirror what was permitted in the ordinance. Council President Rizzuto said there is a big difference between a Phase 2 study and an environmental report. The fact that access to this facility is going to require substantial road work on Black Creek Drive, for a person to ingress and egress the property from Route 94, which is a State highway. You would have to go down this particular road that could not handle it. The road would have to be improved and that improvement he believes requires a rate of decline no more than 10% and right now it is substantially more than that. Based upon any number of fees and any other considerations, it became the Council's position that at this point we wanted to have it on the record that we are opposed to the purchase of this particular property and contract. Council President Rizzuto said he hopes that we can move on from here,
There being no further items of business to be conducted on the agenda, a motion for adjournment was made by Council Member Lynch, seconded by Council Member Buccieri with all members voting in favor.
The Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was adjourned at 7:51 p.m.
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Minutes approved: February 28, 2022