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Alcatel-Lucent Protests Township's Redevelopment Plan Proposal

An unexpected legal action by the owner of the 473-acre property persuades the Township Committee to abandon its vote on the Redevelopment Plan ordinance Tuesday.

At a tense Township Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon attended by an overflow crowd of about 90 people, Mayor Patrick Impreveduto made a surprise announcement that the governing body would scrap its vote to adopt the proposed Alcatel-Lucent Redevelopment Plan ordinance after receiving a letter of protest from an Alcatel-Lucent attorney.

The mayor also revealed that the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection considers the largely bucolic 473-acre former Bell Labs property on Crawfords Corner Road to be within a sewer service area. He explained that the Township Committee had been working out of the public eye to correct that designation by aligning its zoning with the county Wastewater Management Plan, via the Redevelopment Plan ordinance. 

The vote to adopt the Redevelopment Plan was essentially a vote to limit the sewer area to just the two million square foot building as exists currently, he explained. But now there would be no vote.

"What this does," said the mayor, "is it gives Lucent the opportunity to do what they will with the property, at any time they wish to do it, until, and if, we can come back with another plan.

"If Lucent wants to knock the building down tomorrow, if they file a petition, or they want to put five or six buildings and make it corporate park, Lucent has every right to do that. We tried to stop that, but unfortunately, this was not successful, based on what has just transpired," said Impreveduto.

The letter signed by a Stephen Eisdorfer of Hill Wallack LLP of Princeton NJ was received by the township on Dec. 20. In the three page document, the attorney representing Alcatel-Lucent called Holmdel township's proposed redevelopment plan "unlawful" under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law" and "poorly thought through and dysfunctional."

Said Eisdorfer, "It also locks the Township and Alcatel-Lucent into a form of development that is unrealistic and substantially reduces the value of the property. Finally, it represents unsound planning policy."

Eisdorfer pointed out that the requirement that the entire property must be redeveloped by a single entity prevents Alcatel-Lucent from splitting up the property into more marketable parcels. Another requirement that the building be preserved in its present form "saddles Alcatel-Lucent with an artifact that is costly to maintain and difficult to market under realistic market conditions."

At its peak, the facility employed 6,500 quality jobs and many secondary jobs in the region and produced $5 million in tax revenues for Holmdel Township. Now it is unused and only contributes about $700,000 in tax revenues to Holmdel.

"If properly reused, however, it could be a singular resource for resurrecting the economy of the region and the State, and a renewed source of tax revenue for Holmdel Township," said Eisdorfer.

In order to defend itself against a legal protest, the Township Committee would need a super-majority vote, which means an agreement from four out of five members. Knowing that Committeeman Rocco Pascucci, a pediatrician, would be absent for the 1 p.m. public meeting, the governing body apparently still had the option to take a vote with Mayor Impreveduto, Deputy Mayor Serena DiMaso, Committeeman Eric Hinds and Committeeman Larry Fink. But they did not do so, and did not offer an explanation.

Fink, the only Democrat on the Republican-majority board, a longtime advocate for open government and environmental issues, said, "I am relieved we are not taking action on this plan today. I think we were moving too fast, and there were several deficiencies which I observed in the plan myself," he said.  "I personally thought there was more work to be done on the plan, and more public opportunities for public input."

Many people who spoke at the public meeting are also CILU members. But also present were residents who were curious or concerned about the issue, a developer who envisions a tech company at the site, representatives of Somerset Development (which is no longer in talks with Alcatel-Lucent) and the editor of PreservingHolmdel.com, a Bell Labs facility fan site.

Judging from the largest crowd of the year, there was no denying the passion for the landmark site, which not so long ago provided quality employment, tax revenues and pride in the community. Committeeman Hinds, a member of the Alcatel-Lucent sub-Committee, tried forcefully to assure the large gathering -- some of whom who had spoken out critically about the Comittee or the Plan -- that Holmdel elected officials were working in the best interest of Holmdel residents.

"We have fought hard that it is not the 'Wild, Wild West' at that property, and that we don't have condos or jail or Taco Bells or shopping mall or movie theater or all the things we've heard. Until there is a buyer, until there is somebody with a plan, why the hysteria? You did elect all of us. Have some confidence and faith that we are all trying to do the right thing," he said.

Resident Martin Brilliant replied to the Committee, explaining that the public could not be blamed for wondering why the rush to wrap up the highly-anticipated Redevelopment Plan in the busy Hanukah/Christmas week, even changing the time of the public hearing to 1 o'clock in the afternoon to avoid conflict with the observance of Hanukah. "Your indignation at being misunderstood is misplaced. You should have expected to be misunderstood."

Althought it was no longer a public hearing on the Redevelopment Plan, the Township Committee heard several other residents' concerns. After the meeting ended, Mayor Impreveduto wished residents happy holidays and shook hands with his colleagues, including Committeeman Fink. 

Although deeply disappointed with the turn of events which he believes was sparked by misinformation, the mayor said he was willing to return to the drawing board with the Committee in 2012 to start again on a new Redevelopment Plan.

"In the very near future, I think we need to have better dialogue with Lucent, and we'll be working closely with them to both help market the property in the best way that best fits Holmdel. That's our initial step," he said. 

"As a Committee, we'll talk about having future meetings in regard to the Redevelopment Plan." With the public? "Absolutely," replied the mayor.

Jennifer December 21, 2011 at 02:09 PM
I actually agree with Alcatel-Lucent. Splitting the property into more manageable and marketable bites is not a bad idea. It would also allow selected prices to be zoned residential, if any are at all. Remember, they can split it up, but they can't force the town to rezoned any of the pieces. So maybe they sell two smaller office/ retail pieces, for example, and we get a ratable faster. Maybe smaller, but less risky, and faster to complete. And honestly, at this point I don't know that I would object to a grove-style mall, with a restaurant or two. If anyone is doing shopping malls anymore.
Jeff Gollin December 21, 2011 at 02:36 PM
The Asbury Park Press report of the Acatel-Lucent action opposing the Redevelopment Plan was that (a) the action was not "unexpected", (b) their tactical reason for filing the objection was that, in doing so, the process would then require a super-majority vote by the TC to approve the Plan and (c) since the super-majority could not be achieved Tuesday due to L. Fink's opposition (he wanted more time to undertake a more thorough review) and R. Pascucci's absence. Note to Jennifer - The Grove is cool for where it is located (a major traffic corridor south of Red Bank). Constructing a similar mall within the more laid-back residential context of central Holmdel would be tantamount to throwing a hand-grenade into what has been (& still is) an enviable pristine way of life (Imagine the impact of a Grove-like mall on the value of neighboring homes)!
Steve Strickland December 21, 2011 at 03:26 PM
If they split it into pieces that are sold to different buyers and one piece is rezoned as residential, I suspect the other buyers could successfully sue to have their pieces rezoned residential as well. So we could easily end up with the entire parcel developed as residential (which most experts agree would increase our taxes). This is a good example of one action leading to a cascade of consequences and ultimately an undesirable outcome.
Eve December 21, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Please, no Grove-style mall at Lucent property, this type of use will generate too much traffic, and overwhelm the surrounding areas of the town. I hope that the town can come up with a better plan soon. However, I still question lack of prior communication from the Township Committee about the actual purpose of trying to adopt the ordinance so quickly. Preventing sewers proliferation on Lucent property is a noble goal, and I am all for it, and so, probably, is most everyone in town, but why did nobody know that this was the intention of the plan? The township knows best, and those pesky taxpayers just don't understand what's good for them? According to Mr. Impreveduto, quoted in this week's Independent article, those who wanted more info on the plan and more time to discuss it are a "claque of malcontents"? This is a fine way to refer to those who take the fate of their town seriously. Somehow it does not feel too comfortable to have the important decisions made by "benevolent rulers" behind closed doors.
Ronald December 21, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Oh yes, Eve, the Mayor is on record calling Holmdel taxpayers "a claque of malcontents." My jaw hit the floor. Make no mistake, the hapless mayor and his party is trying to lay the Lucent fiasco at the feet of the public -- for the "impertinence" of wanting open proceedings and for speaking up in meetings and in the media. Impreveduto & DiMaso have had majority status for the last six years and have had ample time for action on Lucent. Their "disappointment" at the outcome now rings phony and false. They own this.
john strand December 21, 2011 at 06:18 PM
I thought the most revealing moment in the Tuesday meeting came in the comments of committeeman Hinds. He basically said if you're going to get pounded into the ground, point your toes...Alcatel holds all the cards, our only hope is to work with them to maximize their profit. He also said that he was indifferent whether the Saarinen building is preserved. BTW, people keep referring to this as the Lucent property. The Alcatel part of Alcatel-Lucent is increasingly dominant. They are a French company with zero connection with Holmdel. This was very evident in the Manalapan meeting about the state sewerage plan .. the Alcatel spokesman at that meeting took a very hard line and (according to current and former township officials at the meeting) badly misrepresented the history of the township/Bell Labs relationship.
bud December 21, 2011 at 10:43 PM
I agree with most of what Eisdorfer says. Alcatel ALWAYS had the right to develop the property using reasonable and accepted practices like subdivision, or mixed use, just like any other property owner. I think Holmdel hired the wrong lawyers, planners and engineers, which I might add is VERY expensive, and now the Mayor says we are gonna do it again??? WHAT? As I have said ad nauseum, we should attempt to work with these people to allow reasonable development reflecting the real world conditions. The French govt. is not going to stand idly by while Alcatel loses $Millions per year. The people of Whippany, NJ successfully worked with Alcatel for a win/win solution and sold their Lucent property to Bayer. We should talk to them and attempt to duplicate their successful plan. Holmdel has been VERY poorly served by it's existing cadre of "professionals." Let's not continue to feed these political dependents for the next five years.
Joe Ponisi Sr. December 22, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Let me open by stating that I am tired of reading posts by people who fail to fully identify themselves. If you have something useful to say come out from behind your "tag name" and let everyone know who you are and stand behind what you have to say. I for one think our Township Committee has done a commendable job in trying to bring a high quality ratable to fill the vacant property. Unfortunately it's the market, the horrible economy and an obsolete building that has prevented a buyer from coming in. The redevelopment plan needs to be broadly written (and not resticitve) to attract a world-class developer and buyer. Ultimately it will be the market that determines what eventually goes in there (not us), we just need to help facilitate the process and make sure it's a good fit. Let's all hope that in 2012 we as a community can help make some real progress on getting this property back on the tax rolls.
Steve Strickland December 22, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Contrary to some statements, Alcatel-Lucent can't do whatever they want. The property is currently zoned Office-Laboratory and their use, or that of whoever they sell it to, is limited by that zoning. The consensus is that the value with this zoning is low and Alcatel-Lucent wants Holmdel to change the zoning to permit uses that would make the property more marketable and more valuable. Holmdel's only motivation for doing so is to see it reused (or redeveloped) in a way that enhances the town, taking into account all the impacts---tax revenue, service costs (roads, fire, police, schools), and non-monetary effects (traffic, noise, loss of open space, groundwater effects, etc.). The proposed ordinance was essentially a combined, multiuse rezoning. Any buyer/developer would have to live within the constraints of the plan. That said, there are probably various legal actions that Alcatel-Lucent can pursue to force the town into a more favorable (to them) rezoning. Missteps by the town in any rezoning or planning could inadvertently provide support for these legal actions, so it is important to proceed carefully. Alcatel-Lucent is a French multinational and their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders is to maximize value. That means getting as much for the property as they can. To assume that they in any way care about what happens to Holmdel would be naive.
Steve Strickland December 22, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Many comments seem to imply that "we need to do something." I'm not so sure. Among the possible outcomes, some are clearly worse than doing nothing. To take an extreme example, if the township were willing to rezone the property for high-density residential, Alcatel-Lucent could probably sell the property tomorrow (figuratively speaking). But taxes would almost certainly go up (not down). And we'd have more congestion, crowded schools, less open space, etc. Certainly a worse outcome than doing nothing. There are undoubtedly other less extreme examples that would ultimately leave us worse off than we are now. We constantly hear that there are no buyers. But the past 5 years have been the worst real-estate market in perhaps half a century. Maybe we shouldn't be trying so hard at this time. Maybe more buyers will merge in a few years when the economy improves.
Steve Strickland December 22, 2011 at 02:46 AM
The recent town budget was approximately $79 million. If we were to fully restore the Alcatel-Lucent property as a tax ratable, it might possibly generate $5 million in taxes (arguably less, but let's be generous). This is a bit over 6% of the 2011 budget. Not nothing, but not likely to have a dramatic impact on our taxes either. And the forces that are currently driving our taxes up year after year would not change, so for retirees struggling to stay in their homes, it would probably buy them a few years at most. For others, the impact would likely be subsumed by other changes in salary, federal or state taxes, etc. In taking any action, we need to weigh this modest potential benefit against the very real risks. Finally, I was shocked by the condescendingly dismissive tone of the town's attorney in responding to citizen comments. We're paying him, right? He works for us? Just checking. If my attorney ever took that tone in a conversation with me, I'd be looking for a new attorney.
ed beckenstein December 22, 2011 at 03:41 AM
After World War 2 in Nassau County near the Meadowlands Arena a bunch of my relatives moved to run away from New York City (mostly Brooklyn) to enjoy "country living." The areas had a bucolic country atmosphere compared much of to New York City. But after private house developments were built and roads were built (e.g. Hempstead Turnpike) the construction of strip malls began. It was very enticing. People could move to the country and create plenty of places to shop nearby. And the value of homes would increase. At the beginning of this you could buy your own home for a very modest price. The area became a set of strip malls loaded with stores and tons of restaurants and fast food places. There were areas of private home developments that you could drive into but had difficulty finding your way out of. They seemed to be walled up to protect their environment from what had surrounded them. The prices of private homes increased. Taxes became huge. Prices rose MUCH MORE in areas that were protected by wise township councils with political connections . A lot of Nassau County now looks like a huge Canal Street with newer buildings but without the smell of garbage in the street. It isn't wise to take the towns in this area even slightly in that direction. If you head that way you may find your direction can't be reversed. I've also seen it happen to a LOT of Staten Island (where I work for 40 years)! Wouldn't trade Brooklyn for Nassau cty AND Staten Island pasted together.
James McEowen December 23, 2011 at 03:12 PM
I agree with Joe that folks who leave comments should correctly identify themselves. If you have something to say, you should not say it from behind a screen. Take responsibility for your own views, please! By the way, I believe the building has outlived its usefulness and should be torn down.
Christina Johnson (Editor) December 23, 2011 at 07:13 PM
The 3-page letter of protest from the Alcatel-Lucent's law firm to Holmdel Township's Committee has been posted to this article.
Jeff Rossi December 24, 2011 at 01:07 AM
If Mr. Eisdorfer's letter is accurate, then our town government made a serious miscalculation hanging their hat on calling the property "in need of rehab" when it wasn't executed properly from a legal sense. I guess the claque of malcontents had something to do with that ball possibly being dropped. (Funny, back in 2009 the committee was begging for public input, now we're considered malcontents - wonder who ruined it for everyone?). Don't get me wrong, I applaud the TC for trying to make something happen, I'd just like to see a change from the veiled planning and constituent bashing. You'll never make all of us happy, but at least everyone will feel like they had a voice. That said, Lucent should know that our motive isn't adding 6500 jobs back to the property - it's doing something with this huge plot of land that makes sense for the community. It's a pipe dream to think that the property can bring 6000 jobs and be a singular source for resurrecting the economy. What hyperbole from this guy -really!. We've already absorbed the tax hole that good old Alcatel left us with in abandoning the site - so to me, ratables are a secondary, possibly a tertiary attraction. So go ahead Lucent, knock it down, sub-divide, put up some new corporate facilities - good luck finding tenants. Not sure why Lucent has this sudden epiphany to want to subdivide - didn't hear much from them when they were dancing with Somerset Development back in 2009.
Jeff Rossi December 24, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Is it time for hardball? Grass in the parking lot is getting pretty tall. Might need to cut it and put a lien on the property.
andrew ferrone December 24, 2011 at 03:13 PM
I'd like to weigh in regarding the comments on the Patch blog and the comments in the Independent. (Holmdel Township Meeting, Tues Dec 19) I was curious about the bruhaha that's being stirred up, since I know of Mayor Impreveduto, and respect the man from afar. I wondered why, as Shakespeare wrote, "Me thinks thou protest too much." So, I stopped by town hall and requested to listen to the tape from the meeting. The Mayor said, "...either the public, or a SEGMENT OF THE PUBLIC AND THEIR CLAQUE OF MALCONTENTS didn't want to hear that this could be changed."This is much different than the message that is being reported. Do your research, get the facts, then comment. Not everything is a conspiracy. Sunny F
Jeff Rossi December 24, 2011 at 03:34 PM
I saw the mayor's comments in their full form as well. Don't think anyone disagrees that the folks in our government deserve respect for all of the largely volunteer work they perform. I know they go over and above with their time, and the fact of the matter is they will never make everyone happy. But to address a segment of your constituents as he did shows a lapse in emotional intelligence. I'm sure it was said in frustration, but I expect better. And as Forrest Gump said, "That's all I have to say about that".
Karen Thies January 05, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Well with all the hubba about this- Bud has the best idea !!!! Has anyone looked into the the Whippany /alcatel deal with Bayer and how it came about????-Sounds like that type of deal would make 95% of everyone involved HAPPY!!! Think its worth a looksie!!!! Hello committee Alcatel and taxpayers!!!!! What do you think?????
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