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HomeLocal NewsPAL Overwhelmed as 800 Residents Roar Against Controversial PILOT Initiatives

PAL Overwhelmed as 800 Residents Roar Against Controversial PILOT Initiatives

PARSIPPANY — Due to overwhelming attendance, the Parsippany-Troy Hills Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 19 had to be abruptly canceled due to overcrowding at the Parsippany Municipal Council Chambers.

Council President Loretta Grangani subsequently rescheduled the meeting for Thursday, December 28 at 1:00 p.m., relocating it to the PAL Building at 33 Baldwin Road.

Lake Hiawatha resident Nicholas Homyak was seen carrying a sign before the meeting started at the rescheduled meeting on Thursday, December 28 held at the Parsippany PAL Building.
Before the meeting commenced, numerous residents organized a protest, displaying signs and vocalizing their concerns through chants and slogans.

The venue change was necessitated and the meeting was attended to by over 800 residents, a significant number of whom carried protest signs, causing the room to reach maximum capacity and requiring additional chairs to accommodate the large crowd. During the over seven-hour meeting on Thursday, critics strongly criticized the deals, arguing that they unfairly disadvantage local schools and place an undue burden on taxpayers.

Tensions escalated among residents when Council President Gragnani declared that each resident would only have a strict 90-second window to speak during all public sessions. Frustration mounted as residents attempted to ask questions and convey their viewpoints, only to be stopped by Parsippany Police for exceeding the 90-second time limit. “This meeting is a complete farce,” one speaker said as police took the microphone away. “As a veteran, I deserve more than 90 seconds to speak.”

Tensions among residents escalated when the Council President announced that each resident would be limited to a strict 90-second speaking time during all public sessions. Frustration grew as residents tried to ask questions and express their views, only to find themselves stopped by Parsippany Police for exceeding the 90-second time limit. This time constraint added to the overall discontent among attendees.©2023 Morris Now, LLC
The audience was chanting “Freedom of Speech” as Council President Loretta Gragnani announced public speaking session was changed to 90 seconds. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

Greg Remos said “I was shocked at her attitude towards folks wanting to ask questions. Wouldn’t even grant enough time to ask decent questions.” “I looked into the recall. It looks like if they serve at least one year, we can petition for a recall (just forces another election, but possible.)”

Channel 12 News was present and actively filming at the beginning and throughout the event for their nightly newscast coverage.

Click here to view the Channel 12 newscast.

During the meeting, Councilman Justin Musella put forth a motion to move the public portion to the beginning of the agenda. Unfortunately, the motion failed to garner a second from fellow council members, leaving attendees disheartened and frustrated. The audience expressed their discontent loudly, as they had hoped for broader council support to allow the motion to be voted upon.

In the usual protocol of Council Meetings, the public session traditionally precedes the voting on any ordinances. However, in this particular meeting, there was a departure from the norm as the public portion was rescheduled to the end, following the completion of ordinance voting. This unexpected change in the meeting sequence added to the disappointment of those in attendance.

The audience expressed their discontent loudly, as they had hoped for broader council support to allow the motion to be voted upon. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

The PILOT deals, also known as “payments in lieu of taxes,” have been approved for developers with projects on Campus Drive and Sylvan Way. These incentives were granted through successive 4-1 votes during a tumultuous over seven-hour council session. Councilman Musella cast the lone dissenting vote against the PILOT agreement.

PILOTS have become prevalent throughout the State with at least 50 PILOT agreements in Morris County alone. Neighboring towns like Boonton, Montville, Denville, Hanover Township, and Florham Park, to name a few, have such agreements. If Parsippany doesn’t use PILOTs developers will most likely go to towns that are using the tool. Without any development replacing the vacant office buildings, the town will have to recoup the revenue from existing taxpayers. Redevelopment is necessary to prevent residents from being overburdened with picking up the tax burden previously covered by commercial properties.

“25 of the 39 Municipalities in Morris County, including Parsippany, have PILOTS. The School Board and one Councilman have been very vocal in opposing PILOTS and have published false and misleading statements. The current PILOT issues regard three projects that require six separate financial agreements. All of these projects will produce new and productive revenue-generating properties,” said Council Vice President Michael dePierro.

The ongoing feud between the Board of Education and Mayor James Barberio escalated further during the recent votes on PILOTs. Many current and incoming Board of Education members expressed their strong opposition to the PILOTs during the public comment periods held for each vote. This public disagreement highlights the tension and differences of opinion between the two parties regarding the PILOT programs.

Andrew Choffo is an incoming school board member against the projects. “There’s simply no reason to give sweetheart deals to real estate developers to build residential properties under a PILOT project,” says Andy Choffo.

Council Vice President Michael dePierro said “In general, PILOTS are a financial tool to encourage replacement of vacant, blighted properties into productive, revenue generators providing jobs and other benefits to the municipality. Under current economic conditions (high interest rates and high construction costs), vacant office buildings would remain vacant resulting in a continued revenue loss to the Township and a threat of additional
Affordable Housing Units in the Township’s round IV negotiations with the Courts which is coming up soon. I would not support PILOTS if interest rates and cost for construction were lower.”

Mayor James Barberio

“The Council, by a 4-1 vote, approved a redevelopment plan and Pilot Agreements to bolster Parsippany’s commercial tax base. All of these properties were unanimously declared blighted by all of the Council. Parsippany must use the financial tools available to maximize our commercial ratables so that we can minimize taxes on our residents. Unfortunately, the Board of Education has launched a misinformation campaign about Pilots and I wish they didn’t mislead the parents and students. The fact is that Pilot Agreements do not impact funding for our schools – not one dime,” said Mayor James Barberio.

“What was even more reprehensible is that the Board of Education, along with Councilman Musella, used this misinformation in an attempt to shut down the Council meeting. Shame is on them for attempting to thwart the people’s elected representatives from conducting the people’s business. They didn’t want the facts to be brought out! I am and will continue to be committed to doing all I can to increase commercial ratables by repurposing vacant commercial buildings so that we can keep taxes on our residents to a minimum,” continued the Mayor.

Lake Parsippany resident Tony Barone said “Parsippany turned on in force in opposition, without avail. The Council had decided beforehand to giveaway the tax break. Citizen after citizen spoke, providing a wide range of reasons why the pilot should be rejected or at least delayed for further consideration. It didn’t matter.”

“They knew right from the start what their plan was. So smug and disrespectable to all the people who took the time to go there,” said Sue Petrovic.

Ken Hyland said, “I had to leave early but it was getting a little boisterous.”

Tensions among residents escalated when the Council President announced that each resident would be limited to a strict 90-second speaking time during all public sessions. Frustration grew as residents tried to ask questions and express their views, only to find themselves stopped by Parsippany Police for exceeding the 90-second time limit. This time constraint added to the overall discontent among attendees. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC

“Parsippany residents are outraged as Barberio and this lame duck council inflicted irreparable harm to the township in open defiance of the wishes of the public and the alternate solutions instead of PILOTs before them. By making it more difficult for working families to attend because of the meeting time as well as the 90-second limit on public comments – my colleagues on the council showed that these PILOTs were a foregone conclusion and that the chorus of outrage directed towards these developer tax breaks was nothing more than a nuisance to them,” stated Councilman Justin Musella.

Councilman Justin Musella. Councilman Musella cast the lone dissenting vote against all of the PILOT agreements.

Jill Lammey said “I was there and was shocked at the Council President’s attitude towards some of the residents. I say don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” “I agree they always seem to change the rules during the game; Grant it five minutes we would still be there, but they looked like they cared less. I saw the Mayor walk out a few times. Pathetic if you ask me.”

Rakesh Bhatia said “It was shocking to see how these elected officials went 100% against the will of the citizens they were elected to serve. Even if they haven’t been purchased outright by vested interests, they certainly were smug enough at the public meeting to turn a deaf ear to the clearly expressed objections to their shenanigans. They did their best to push through their agendas before their terms ran out this year.”

Councilman Frank Neglia stated “This PILOT plan is a good one and will help the town and taxpayers immensely despite the propaganda you are being fed by someone. It’s easy to complain and disagree but if you’re going to do that, come up with a solution not just words and propaganda. Pilot plans do not hurt schools, and I would gladly sit down with anyone and prove to you how the schools do not lose a penny and how a pilot program benefits schools.”

Lake Hiawatha resident Jennifer Iceland said, “Thanks to Justin M. and all his supporters to bring the PILOT issue for most of Par-Troy Hills township residents awareness…as far as I am concerned Justin has been tireless working on this topic and one of a kind politician.”

Parsippany’s Declining Office Market

100 Kimball Drive – 175,000 square feet five-story, Class A office building (Constructed in 2007)

Parsippany office market is the largest in Morris County and one of the largest markets in Northern New Jersey. The Class A office market is comprised of approximately 12 million square feet of office buildings, the majority of which were constructed before 2000. Corporate leasing demand has been declining in Northern New Jersey as well as Parsippany. Parsippany office market has the highest level of vacancy in any submarket of Northern New Jersey. Statistically, the market equilibrium in commercial real estate is considered 15% to 20% vacant. Parsippany is over 40%. There are currently an unprecedented number of “vacant” buildings in the Parsippany office market, including:

•100 Kimball Drive – 175,000 square feet five-story, Class A office building (Constructed in 2007)
•200 Kimball Drive – 175,000 square foot five-story, Class A office building
•11 Waterview Boulevard – 121,441-square-foot office, Class A office building (Constructed in 2001)
•15 Waterview Boulevard – 129,884-square-foot office four-story (Constructed in 1999); Class A office building
•7 Century Drive – 67,817-square-foot office three-story (Constructed in 1979); Class B office building. Planned warehouse.
•6 Sylvan Way – 195,200-square foot four-story (Constructed in 1981); Class A office building. Planned Life Time Fitness and 280 multi-family housing units
•9 Sylvan Way – Industrial Redevelopment – Proposed 73,000 square-foot build-to-suite class A warehouse for lease and for sale.
•8 Sylvan Way – 176,062-square foot three-story (Constructed in 1979); Class A office
•7 Campus Drive – 156,000-square foot three-story (Constructed in 1982); Class A office – Industrial Redevelopment
•2 Hilton Court – 181,592-square foot four-story (Constructed in 1991); Class A office – Industrial Redevelopment
•1599 Littleton Road – 97,817-square foot three-story (Constructed in 1969); Class B office – Tenant Vacating in 2024

Apart from the existing vacant buildings, there are seven additional office buildings where significant leases are set to expire in the next six years. If these tenants choose not to renew, it could potentially contribute an additional million square feet of vacant office space to the market.

These proposed PILOTS mean Parsippany will receive nearly 35 million dollars in revenue over what it will receive if these projects do not happen. If that money is not raised through the below PILOTS the cost will be shifted to the Parsippany taxpayers.

“Contrary to School Board claims, the School Board will receive their share of the assessed Land taxes on these PILOT locations. They will still also receive 100% of their budget through tax collection. Also, three of these locations will not produce any school children. The three locations that do, are all part of the Township’s Affordable Agreement with the Courts. The developer at 2 & 3 Campus Drive has reduced the number of school children by dedicating some of the units to supportive housing for adults. The Township still receives credit for the same number of units required by the courts. The estimated number of school children will be far less than our objectors claim,” said Council Vice President Michael dePierro.

When the Council voted 4-1 to approve the first PILOT program, it indeed elicited strong reactions from residents. Many expressed their frustration and disappointment, particularly those who were opposed to the program and had hoped for a different outcome. These reactions reflected the divided opinions within the community regarding the PILOT program and its implications. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

Ordinances Voted Upon By Township Council

Ordinance 2023:26 – 7 Campus Drive
One of the initial Ordinances on the agenda was Ordinance 2023:26, An Ordinance of the Township Council of Parippany-Troy Hills Adopting the “7 Campus Drive” Redevelopment Plan. Despite public opposition, the ordinance was passed 4-1, with Councilman Justin Musella voting against the plan.

Seven Campus Drive served as a former location of Centenary College. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

On November 20, 2020, Mack-Cali Realty Corporation announced the sale of 7 Campus Drive, a vacant office building with a total area of 154,820 square feet. The property was sold to Birch Group for an approximate price of $12.75 million. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

Ordinance 2023:37 – Life Time Fitness – 6 Sylvan Way
The next Ordinance to receive excessive public outcry was Ordinance 2023:37, authorizing the Execution of a Financial Agreement (PILOT) with the Township and SIG Sylvan Club Urban Renewal, LLC, granting a tax exemption concerning property identified at Block 202, Lot 1.9 per the Long-Term Exemption Law. The property location is Six Sylvan Way and is currently owned by Signature Acquisitions. This project will split the property where Avis Rent-A-Car, recently vacated, and replace the current structure with a Lifetime Fitness. A typical club features a 125,000-square-foot format, including indoor and outdoor swimming pools, athletic courts, saunas, cardio and weight training equipment, fitness studios, kids spaces, a cafe, and a spa. The center’s pool area will occupy about 50,000 square feet of space with an outdoor beach club and bistro, lap pools, and a whirlpool. The average membership fee to join Lifetime is $175.00 per month.

Residents expressed their concerns about the necessity of another gym in Parsippany, particularly one that received a PILOT program. These concerns were amplified by the recent closure of Esporta Fitness in the Troy Hills Shopping Center, leaving a sizable 61,221-square-foot space vacant.

Life Time Fitness in Montvale

The ordinance granting a PILOT financial agreement to Life Time Fitness was passed with a vote of 4-1 in favor. Councilman Musella cast the lone dissenting vote against the PILOT agreement.

Ordinance 2023-38 – Kanso Parsippany Urban Renewal, LLC. – 6 Sylvan Way
An ordinance granting a Tax Exemption (PILOT) for Six Sylvan Way, under the Log Term Tax Exemption Law, identified as Block 202, Lot 1.9. This property will be developed into 280 multi-family housing units.

The ordinance granting a PILOT financial agreement to Kanso Parsippany Urban Renewal was passed with a vote of 4-1 in favor. Councilman Musella cast the lone dissenting vote against the PILOT agreement.

Ordinance 2023:39 – PAR Development Urban Renewal – 7 Campus Drive
An ordinance granting a Tax Exemption (PILOT) for Seven Campus Drive, under the Log Term Tax Exemption Law, identified as Block 202, Lot 3.8.

The ordinance granting a PILOT financial agreement to PAR Development Urban Renewal was passed with a vote of 4-1 in favor. Councilman Musella cast the lone dissenting vote against the PILOT agreement.

Alicia DiGivoanni speaking during public comments. ©2023 Morris Now, LLC.

Randy Glowacki said “Once again we see the Council except for Justin Musella being in the pockets of developers. How could they possibly vote for this after the meeting this afternoon? I’ve lived in this town for 67 years and it’s just business as usual. Something’s rotten in Denmark.”

Patricia Huncken said “The citizens voted them in and yet they don’t listen to them. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Greg Remos said “Can elected officials in Parsippany be recalled? Is there a law for that?”

Marcy Phelps said “Starting to believe no elected official care about taxpaying residents, except Justin Musella. Remember this one election day.” “Let’s get them to recall petitions ready!”

Jennifer Iceland asked, “How about impeachment?”

Ralph Weber said “Over 700 people showed up and as far as I saw not one resident was in favor of any of the PILOT programs. It was like a football game around 1:00 p.m. Others state the arrogance of some of the town council members and the Mayor. Considering the issues in Jersey City where they stopped four of the six PILOTS, due to not meeting 100% of the program and the loss of revenue. Montville is in the early stages and is in the millions in loss. People have a right to their concerns. To reject the community and its outcry is political suicide.”

Over 50 residents spoke out against the PILOTs during the first public hearing. However, tensions among residents escalated with the strict 90-second time limit for each resident. This led to growing frustration as residents attempted to ask questions and express their views, only to be interrupted by Parsippany Police for exceeding the 90-second time limit.
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Frank L. Cahill
Frank L. Cahill
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, President of Kiwanis Club of Tri-Town and Chairman of Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board.
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