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2006-01-29
Paramus, N.J. Neighbors Reject Developer’s Hush Money For Lowe’s

Not everything is for sale. That's a hard lesson for developers to learn, but for some people a 166,000 s.f. Lowe's store in their backyards is not worth it at any price. The Vornado Realty Trust, the same developer who dropped Wal-Mart from its plan in Brooklyn, New York, offered 20 neighbors a total of $170,000 for landscaping work, and $15,000 in legal fees if the residents would drop their opposition to a Lowe's and two other big box stores. But according to the North Jersey Media Group, homeowners in the Maywood neighborhood turned down the "backroom deal." But the homeowners made a counter-offer: Vornado should give each homeowner 40% of the assess value of their home. The developer apparently considered the neighbors plans as "extortion" and broke off negotiations. "It's one thing to talk about making certain landscaping improvements in their yard, but it's another thing to write a check for $200,000 and hand out to every person to keep them quiet," Vornado's attorney told NorthJersey.com. But the neighbors made it clear that if the big box project is built, their property values will plummet, so they asked for money to pay them back for that loss. The Vornado agreement would have forced neighbors to stop any future opposition to the plan. Vornado entered into these secret negotiations last November, but became public this week during a Board of Adjustment meeting. The money-in-exchange-for-support deal was exposed by Vornado's own lawyer, who told officials, "To be very candid, I do not believe we will reach an agreement. Their last request was a payment made to individual objectors for approximately $200,000 per person. ... That's just not happening." Paramus has a superstore retail ordinance that requires any building larger than 130,000 square feet to be at least 150 feet from residential properties. Even though that is a largely meaningless buffer, Vornado wanted to build its store only 75 from neighbors' property line. To do that, the developer would have to cut down a wooded area currently shielding the residential homes. Maywood residents have hired an attorney of their own, and have vowed to keep fighting the project.

What you can do: The developer's credibility in this case must surely have been damaged by their own revelation that they were trying to buy out the neighbors. This looks like "hush money" plain and simple to the public, and suggests that the developer thinks that with enough money, Paramus is for sale. How ironic, then, that when the neighbors tried to up the ante, the developer cried foul. What's that about the pot calling the kettle black? This might be an opportune time for Lowe's to quietly find a way out of this project.










 
 
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