Councilman fears builder will extend business leases

Neary: No reason to think redevelopment is in jeopardy


Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK – In the absence of building plans submitted for the Golden Triangle redevelopment, officials are wondering if the businesses operating there will stick around longer than expected.

Toll Brothers purchased the Route 18 property from the township in 2004 with plans to build housing, retail and offices for about $30 million, but has yet to submit a building application to the township. The area is currently home to Sam’s Club, Jason’s Furniture, and the Route 18 Flea Market. Those businesses were to be displaced after their leases ran out in late 2008.

But Councilman David Stahl said he was told the flea market has requested an extension to stay longer, and he believes the current businesses may be negotiating with Toll Brothers to stay beyond 2008.

Stahl said he wants an acknowledgement from Toll Brothers that it will not extend the leases or enter into any new commercial lease for the space. His fear is that if redevelopment does not commence soon, the township will have to wait longer than expected to see the new tax ratables arrive. He said Toll Brothers’ incremental purchase payments have helped the municipal budget but will run out in a few years, leaving the township at a loss.

Mayor William Neary said he does not know if Toll Brothers is negotiating with the current businesses, and that he understands why the parties would not want the matter to be made public, since doing so could compromise their positions.

Neary has maintained that the redevelopment and Toll Brothers’ construction of a new commuter parking deck are not behind schedule, and that Toll Brothers remains committed to them.

“As of right now, everything seems pretty good,” Neary said. He acknowledged there have been changes in the housing market, but said there is no reason to believe the changes have affected Toll Brothers’ plans.

But with Toll Brothers long overdue to file its plans, Stahl has doubts about when the project will actually get done.

Township Attorney Michael Baker has said Toll Brothers was behind because it was awaiting permits from the state.

“When are they coming before the Planning Board?” Stahl asked.

Neary said he doesn’t know the answer to that, but there’s no reason to think the plans won’t come to fruition. The town has already received millions of dollars in payments, which have been applied to property tax relief.

Stahl stressed that, despite the holdup, he has received no information that Toll Brothers will default on the deal.

“However, the time frame that benefits the township and the time frame that benefits Toll Brothers and its shareholders are different,” he said.

“The longer Toll Brothers delays construction, the wider the gap [between payments to the township] is,” he said.

Though the township is funding the new parking deck, Toll Brothers is overseeing the job.

Stahl said he does not want to see construction on the deck begin until the township has a strict timeline from Toll Brothers as to when residential and commercial development will begin. The township is going into debt for about $30 million for the new parking garage, and if East Brunswick winds up having to buy back property from Toll Brothers, it would mean going into debt by at least another $30 million.

“How much debt can we absorb?” he asked. “I don’t want to build the deck until Toll Brothers has a firm timetable.”

The construction management agreement, which would govern the parking deck construction, was supposed to have been executed in the fall of 2005 but remains unsigned, Stahl noted. The construction budget also is not completed.

Township Finance Director L. Mason Neely told the Sentinel he expects the construction management agreement to be signed this week. He still plans to have daily parkers from the current Transportation and Commerce Center lot relocated to the Tower Center Sept. 4 to allow for the new construction.

Neary said he does not know why Stahl is so upset, and that some of Stahl’s questions require a lot of details.

“We don’t know a lot of the answers,” he said. “As soon as we can report it, we do. There is no secret.”

Neary said the questions are passed along to Toll Brothers, which often does not answer them.