Passaic Library Safe For Now

Friday, October 19, 2007 Copyright 2007 The Record Online, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

Staff Writer

At least $50,000 promised by developers to the Passaic Public Library under terms of a contract with the city's Redevelopment Agency is safe, for now.

A state judge Thursday temporarily barred the Passaic Redevelopment Agency from making any changes to the contract, which makes the library a third-party beneficiary to the money.

The library is suing to prevent the agency from renegotiating its deal with developers George Capodagli and Rigoberto Sanchez of River Edge at Passaic Urban Renewal LLC. The developers signed an agreement in 2005 to develop a 6-acre tract into a 138-unit residential community along the Passaic River. Part of that contract required the developers to allocate two payments of $50,000 to the library -- one following the redevelopment project's initial approval and the other at its completion -- for a total of $100,000.

The developers told the Redevelopment Agency in June that the poor state of the city's real estate market prevented them from moving forward with the project. As a result, the agency formed a subcommittee last month to negotiate a three-year extension and other amendments to the deal. Among those amendments: the likely elimination of the library funding.

State Superior Court Judge Robert Passero ordered the terms of the contract to remain intact pending a 45-day period for attorneys to further investigate facts in the case. Full oral arguments will be presented before Passero sometime thereafter, unless the case is settled in the meantime.

At this point, attorney Lane Biviano said following Thursday's court hearing, that it appears the library could only receive one of the two $50,000 installments at best, as no one disputes failure to complete the project's second phase. What is under debate -- and subject to further investigation in the next 45 days -- is whether the project's first phase is complete.

"There's a legitimate conversation on the table here as to whether Phase I is finished," said Craig Miller, president of the Passaic Public Library board of trustees, reached later by phone. He said Passero's granting the library's request to temporarily restrain the Redevelopment Agency from changing the contract legitimizes the library's case.

"We had enough of an argument to show that there are substantial facts that need to be determined," he said. "And now we have time to do it."

Lawyer Jaime Placek, representing the Redevelopment Agency, said that "while we don't agree it's the correct decision, at this point, we will proceed accordingly."

"I think the judge did what was appropriate," said lawyer Henry Walentowicz, representing the developers. "The main issue, which he noted, would be whether the contingencies were met. The approval contingency to trigger the payment has not been met. The contract itself says payment is due after preliminary and final approvals of Phase I. Project approvals are defined in the agreement as all local, county state and federal approvals, and those have not been obtained. So there is no obligation to pay $50,000. ... I think that is really key to the case right now."


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