Pallone to hold public forum on Sandy Hook

Congressman asks NPSofficial
to attend

Staff Writer

Congressman asks NPSofficial
to attend
Staff Writer

After meeting with members of Save Sandy Hook earlier this week, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-Monmouth) announced he will convene a public forum to address concerns — his and the public’s — about allowing private development at Sandy Hook.

And Pallone, who was left out of the National Park Service lease signing with developer Sandy Hook Partners LLC July 9, is going over the heads of local NPS officials.

The congressman, who has taken an active role in mediating the contentious public process that followed the NPS decision to allow private development on Sandy Hook, has asked NPS director Fran Mainella to attend the forum planned for September.

In the letter, Pallone asked Mainella for "an immediate response to the questions I’ve addressed," adding, "I believe it’s important that a senior level official from the National Park Service address these concerns, as well as additional concerns from the public, at a September forum."

"He wants to elevate it to the next level and get officials from Washington involved," said Pallone spokesman Andrew Souvall. "He wants them to hear his concerns and those of other people."

At the same time, members of Save Sandy Hook (SSH) are researching legal options to stop the NPS from going through with a 60-year lease agreement that would give Sandy Hook Partners LLC (SHP) the right to rehabilitate 36 historic buildings and lease them out for a mix of uses.

Judith Stanley Coleman, chairwoman of SSH, the grassroots group formed to oppose commercialization of The Hook, said the group is looking for an attorney qualified to argue a case against the development in federal court.

"We’re contemplating legal action and looking at what remedies are available to us," Coleman said Tuesday.

She said the idea for the public forum arose during the meeting with Pallone, adding the forum is likely to be held in Middletown.

"We’re going to have a different forum," she said. "The others were run totally by the park service."

Coleman said members of Save Sandy Hook would also be meeting with Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ).

In the July 19 letter, Pallone said he has concerns with the lease and asked that Mainella or "another se­nior level official from Washington join me at a public forum that I plan on hosting in September to address my concerns as well as the concerns of my constituents."

Pallone said his concerns include the fact that the original Request for Proposals required developers to demonstrate that they had secured sufficient financing and that the NPS signed the lease agreement without evidence that Sandy Hook Partners has financing for the pro­ject.

"It appears as though SHP has been granted at least another six-month extension to provide evidence that the financing is in place," Pal­lone wrote.

At least one other proposal was rejected because it did not demon­strate adequate financing, he added.

In addition, he said the lease agreement states that the developer can amend or change approved uses and he asked for specifics about what types of use changes would be permitted.

Also, Pallone questioned whether the lease would allow for an in­crease in parking spaces if needed by the developer or would permit new construction.

"There is also a question of whether the lease can be character­ized as a valid lease since the docu­ment states that if SHP cannot meet its financial commitments, then the lease agreement will become null and void," he said.

The NPS signed the lease after James Wassel, head of SHP, submit­ted financial information in time to meet a June 30 deadline. Wassel re­portedly has $13 million lined up for phase one of his $75 million project.

Opponents of the project, The Fort at Sandy Hook, criticized the lease signing as another extension of time for Wassel to try to line up financing since the agreement gives SHP until Dec. 31 — or longer at the discretion of the NPS — to show he has firm commitments for financing.

The lease agreement calls for the rehab of seven buildings and gives the developer 64 months within which to complete three phases of rehabilitation and leasing of the his­toric buildings, longer than the five years the NPS originally stipulated.