Howell council, developer trade charges

Spalliero, DiBella
square off over
charge of

Staff Writer

Spalliero, DiBella
square off over
charge of ‘shakedown’
Staff Writer

Developer Anthony Spalliero came to the Oct. 7 meeting of the Howell Township Council alleging a "shakedown" attempt by two councilmen and one of their partisan supporters.

Both councilmen strongly denied ever having attempted to "shake down" the developer.

Spalliero said he and Terry Sherman, his partner in Crawford Holdings, met on Oct. 5 with Republican councilmen Joseph DiBella and Juan Malave in the Lakewood officer of attorney Sal Alfieri. Also in attendance at the Oct. 5 meeting was James Stanberry, president of the Howell United Republican Club. DiBella said Stanberry was brought to the meeting to serve as an impartial witness to the proceedings.

Crawford Holdings has a pending application before the Planning Board to build a 500-home adult community on the Route 33 site of the Flame motel.

Spalliero and DiBella hurled accusations back and forth at each other on the evening of Oct. 7 after Spalliero said of the Oct 5 meeting in Alfieri’s office, "You guys were there to shake me down. Nobody shakes me down."

Denying Spalliero’s allegation, DiBella said to Spalliero, "Your reputation precedes you."

DiBella repeatedly denied ever asking Spalliero for anything other than for the application to be changed from residential development to commercial development.

Spalliero claimed the Republicans had asked him and Sherman to give Howell $2.5 million.

The accusation was sharply denied by DiBella and Malave from the dais and by Stanberry after the meeting.

Spalliero also said DiBella offered Alfieri the position as Howell’s Planning Board attorney.

made "in jest," Spalliero responded, "You’re a liar."

Alfieri is representing Crawford Holdings before the Planning Board in the application for the adult community. He is also Howell’s public defender, having been appointed to that position by the new Republican majority that took office in January. Alfieri is also the Republican Party chairman in Marlboro.

Several messages left for Alfieri by Greater Media Newspapers were not returned.

During his public comments to the council, Spalliero said he and Sherman called for the Oct. 5 meeting because they had learned the Republican major­ity on the governing body was planning to introduce an ordinance to rescind the zoning in place for their Route 33 adult community application.

A vote for preliminary site plan ap­proval for that application is expected to be taken at the Planning Board’s Oct. 16 meeting. The adult community is to be called Colts Neck Crossing.

Instead of Alfieri, attorney Steven Tripp, of the Woodbridge firm of Wilentz, Goldman, Spitzer, was present on Oct. 7 to represent Crawford Holdings. He told the members of the governing body the applicant will challenge any change in the zoning.

Ironically, if the Colts Neck Crossing application is approved on Oct. 16, the ordinance introduced by DiBella on Oct 7 will be moot since the ordinance was be­ing introduced in an effort to stop the 500-home community from being ap­proved.

The ordinance DiBella introduced last week would rezone the 334-acre property on Route 33 in the vicinity of Cranberry, Yellow Brook and Colts Neck roads from a planned retirement community to highway development.

Speaking that evening to a Greater Media Newspapers reporter after his public remarks to the governing body, Spalliero said DiBella was the person who asked for the money.

When asked what DiBella said he wanted the money for, Spalliero said DiBella, "wasn’t specific about what it would be used for, just that it was for the town."

Spalliero went on to say, "What was obvious was that if we didn’t give them the money they would do this," referring to DiBella’s introduction of the zoning change.

When interviewed, neither Sherman nor Spalliero would say how they became aware of the planned zoning change ex­cept to say they heard about it. The in­troduction of the ordinance was not listed on the council’s Oct. 7 meeting agenda.

Spalliero said he believed DiBella wanted the $2.5 million so that Howell officials could build a recreation center. The developer said he would have been "glad to give the money, but because I want to, not because they’re gonna try and shake me down for it. It was obvious from the beginning [of the Oct. 5 meet­ing] that they were there to shake me down."

Ending his remarks to DiBella at the council meeting, Spalliero said, "I hope your house is paid for."

Speaking after the meeting about Spalliero’s comment concerning his house, DiBella said, "I initially took it to mean they were going to sue me. It has since been explained to me that there are other interpretations of that phrase which do have me concerned."

Spalliero could not be reached for comment on his parting remark to the councilman.

At the council meeting, in a conver­sation following Spalliero’s public state­ments, Sherman confirmed Spalliero’s al­legation that it was DiBella who made the request for money.

"Tonight was an unfortunate turn of events, but yes, it’s true. He [DiBella] did make the request. He kept saying, ‘What will you give us?’ " Sherman said.

Mayor Timothy J. Konopka, the only Democrat on the council, voted no on the introduction of the zone change. DiBella, Malave and Deputy Mayor Peter Tobasco voted to introduce the ordinance. Republican Councilwoman Cynthia Schomaker was not present. The ordi­nance could be adopted as soon as Oct. 20.

Konopka was irate about not being in­formed by DiBella and Malave about their private meeting with the develop­ers.

DiBella told Konopka, "It’s because I don’t trust you."

Konopka told his Republican col­leagues, "You guys are running a closed government. This is a government of five, not four."

Konopka also questioned why, if the Oct. 5 meeting was "on the up and up," he hadn’t been informed and the meeting held at town hall.

"I don’t make deals behind doors with developers," Konopka said.

DiBella charged that Spalliero was the one who had brought up the subject of money when he offered to buy Howell an ambulance and a fire engine, as well as to donate $2 million to be used to build a municipal recreation center.

DiBella said he refused Spalliero’s of­fer and told the developers he was not in favor of anything but commercial devel­opment along the Route 33 corridor.

Sherman also spoke at the Oct. 7 council meeting. He said DiBella was not being truthful about his reason for seeking the zoning change.

Sherman said DiBella told the devel­opers at the meeting in Alfieri’s office that he wasn’t "averse to a retirement community," but that politically he couldn’t publicly support such an enter­prise.

"You weren’t doing what was best for Howell, but what was best for you politi­cally," said Sherman.

DiBella said the reason he and Malave agreed to meet with the develop­ers, at their request, was in order to see if they could convince the builders to commercially develop the Route 33 site, rather than building 500 adult homes.

DiBella said Tobasco, who admitted from the dais to discussing setting up the Oct. 5 meeting with Alfieri while the two were playing golf, could not attend the private meeting because he sits on the Planning Board with Konopka.

Both DiBella and Malave said one of the reasons they agreed to meet at Alfieri’s office was because as a township employee hired by their administration, they believed he would not have convened the meeting if it were not OK to do so. Both councilmen also said they thought they were only going to meet with Sherman and Alfieri, and did not know Spalliero would be attending the meeting in Alfieri’s office.

Speaking at the council meeting, Malave said initially he had been "very hesitant" to meet with Sherman because, "I don’t meet with developers. I just don’t do it."

Malave went on to say he did not think it was a crime to meet with anyone in the furtherance of the town’s business. He said it was Spalliero who had offered the donations of money, an ambulance and a fire engine.