The following letter to the editor was written by David Conklin and John Wolkstein, of Livingston.
The two read this letter at the Livingston Township Council meeting on Tuesday night regarding how the township went about seeking the property on Okner Parkway for a potential location for a new Department of Public Works building.
The previous article about the township's comments regarding the Okner Parkway property can be read here.
We are deeply disappointed with the Township of Livingston and specifically the mayor and town manager due to their aggressive pursuit of a land purchase on industrial parkway in Livingston for a new Department Of Public Works site.
The township was well aware that our company was in active negotiations to purchase this property and to construct a much needed regulation sized turf field /sports dome in Livingston and an improvement that would add significant tax revenue to the township.
Throughout our development work on this project we shared the results of our due diligence work at the site with not only the seller of this property, but also the township since we knew approvals for the project would need to be obtained.
We spent tens of thousands of dollars conducting our due diligence as per the land owner’s urging us to get started. We had or legal team, our engineering site plan completed, out traffic studies done and our environmental studies completed.
All of this was reliance upon the land owners repeated comments that we should move forward on the regulatory approvals and that nothing in the contract would impeded us from completing the land acquisition.
Nearly every material term of the contract to purchase the property had been agreed with the seller and documented in a letter of intent and draft contracts were being exchanged between the attorneys.
So what suddenly went wrong?What we learned was that the Township of Livingston, armed with the details of our development plans, was interfering and preventing us from realizing our $5 million recreational investment in Livingston.
The township, that stood to benefit the most from this much needed turf field complex and recreational project as well as add additional ratable to help stabilize the tax base in the township, was actively pursuing the owner of the property to block our project from happening.
The mayor and the township manager knew that we were far along on this project as we requested a TRAC (Technical Advisory Committee) meeting with the township Planning Board to help us indentify areas of concern as well as time frames. We had forwarded our due diligence reports in preparation for this meeting. The town had our site plan, our environmental reports and our traffic plans.
We were shocked to learn that they used our completed due diligence to compete against us!Specifically, the mayor was told on April 11, 2013 at the bicentennial celebration that we had agreed to a letter of intent with the land owner and we were in the final contact negotiations for our sports and recreation project.
“Oh that’s great and I can’t wait” the mayor replied.
Shortly thereafter, the land owner went silent. When we heard rumors regarding the town’s interest in the land we were devastated. This was surprising considering the town looked at this property a few years ago and walked away because it was too wet.We then requested a meeting with the mayor and the town manager. The mayor and town manager asked us to keep this meeting private.
Eventually we found out the other town council members didn’t even know about this secret meeting.While we were shocked by this request, we were mindful that our project, to be successful, depended on approvals from the township Planning and Zoning boards.
We certainly did not want to do anything that would jeopardize the governing body’s support for our project. The mayor told us that the township was in active discussions with the land owner to buy this land.
If approved, "Livingston was going to buy the land,” said the mayor and reiterated by the town manager. We were told that the mayor and manger had already ordered appraisals on the property.The mayor dropped a bomb on us by saying, “we support your concept of a sports turf field and dome but we need this site for our DPW site.”
We expressed our shock and dissatisfaction.
Frankly, we were devastated.
Weeks later we learned more disturbing news. We learned that the mayor had told the town council members that we were not ready to complete the project and that we would not stand in the way of the townships need for a DPW site.
This is unequivocally untrue.
We tried to keep this matter private. However, misinformation and inaccurate public statements require that the public learns the truth of the matter.
The citizens of Livingston have a right to know the truth and the facts.The township executives interfered with our fully developed plans to acquire the site. But for the interference of the township, we would have secured a binding contract from the seller and moved forward with our approval process in earnest.
Instead the mayor and town manger misinformed the town council members regarding our intentions. If the township proceeds with its plans, the township will lose a tax ratable. The township will lose a business that creates jobs.
Lastly and most important the township will lose a much needed regulation sized turf field for thousands of kids and residents to use for many years to come.
The magnitude of this bond issue to support this new facility has not been fully vetted. It is our understanding that the township wants to spend over $10 million of tax payer monies to build this facility.
This may or may not be necessary but Livingston’s mayor, town manager, and council are playing fast and loose with Livingston tax payers dollars.
Our business partners are lifetime Livingston residents. We all chose to educate and raise our children here. We have been active productive members and volunteers in the community in many different ways.
All Livingston residence should be deeply saddened and disturbed by the unprofessional manner in which our town officials have acted in this matter.