Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Questions arise regarding Rubinstein project

Published in the August 4, 2005 issue of The Courier.

Questions arise regarding Rubinstein project


Did state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, use his elected office to promote the project of a developer and frequent campaign contributor?

The development in question is not the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station Redevelopment Project, but rather a new issue entirely: the Rubinstein project, also known as Tierra Del Sol, in Keansburg.

Officials in Keansburg say Kyrillos put pressure on the township to help Rubinstein with a water issue involving the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), while Kyrillos says he was merely addressing a “constituent service issue” involving a long-time friend who happened to be a campaign contributor.

The Rubinstein project stems back to November 18, 2002 when the Keansburg Planning Board of Adjustment approved an application by Executive Development, LLC, a company owned and operated by Leonard Rubinstein.

Rubinstein's proposal called for 48 condominium/townhouse units on 2.7 acres of land on Beachway, between Laurel Avenue and Oakwood Place and bordering the Raritan Bay. The parcels surrounding the Rubinstein property are designated as a flood plain, according to a consolidation deed prepared August 5, 2004.

When the November 18, 2002 resolution was adopted by the borough's Planning Board of Adjustment, the two lots on Beachway were still owned by Louis T. Collichio. However, on February 28, 2004 Executive Development, LLC purchased the deed for the two parcels of land for $750,000, according to paperwork filed at the Monmouth County Clerk's Office.

During the November 18, 2002 vote, the Planning Board of Adjustment found that “the proposed development would improve an under-utilized lot and have a positive economic impact on the area.”

The only opposition to the plan at the time came from Keansburg resident Ronald Knapp, now deceased, who testified that he believed the development, which had only one entrance and exit, would create traffic problems on Beachway.

Nevertheless, the Planning Board of Adjustment approved the resolution with five members voting in favor of the application, one voting against it and three members abstaining.

The three abstentions came from then Keansburg Borough Council members Michael Minervini and Patricia Gilligan, as well as then Planning Board of Adjustment member Michael Dasaro.

Dasaro, who now lives in Holmdel and is running as a Democrat candidate for the 13th District assembly seats, said he abstained because he lived within 200 feet of the proposed development at the time.

Minervini said that, in light of his no longer being in elected office, he does not speak to the press. Gilligan could not be reached for comment. Thus, the reasons for the pair's abstention are not known at this time.

From 2002 until 2005, Executive Development, LLC sought various approvals from the DEP that stalled the project during that time.

Shortly after Terence Wall became borough manager of Keansburg in February 2005, he commissioned Public Works Director Dennis O'Keefe to review various aspects of the Rubinstein project.

According to O'Keefe's assessment, reported in a February 18, 2005 memorandum to Wall, the project's 20-foot setback and 51-foot building height would create a “shadow effect” on Beachway, making snowplowing difficult.

Additionally, O'Keefe wrote that the applicant's Stormwater Management Report was not a valid stormwater management plan.

“The applicant is required to present a detailed map of all existing stormwater outfall lines on this property that are not on the plans, and they are not listed in the stormwater report. The design of this project is directly over the outfall lines, which is in violation of all easement policies,” O'Keefe said.

According to O'Keefe, the two lots proposed for development by Executive Development, LLC are designated as a B2 Zone, which is a commercial and residential area. However, the beachfront property is bordered on its east and west by a CR Zone, or conservation and recreation zone, a fact that was not made clear by the applicant.

O'Keefe also took the project to task for the applicant's failure to “resolve…major areas of concern,” including solid waste removal, drainage and landscaping issues, as wells as incomplete documentation.

“There seems to be too many unanswered questions regarding compliance issues for this project. I recommend that the borough engineer along with the borough attorney review this application and report to the Office of the Borough Manager with their findings. The applicant has an extension until November 2005 to start this project. Permits should not be issued until all compliance issues are resolved,” O'Keefe wrote.

In the early months of 2005, Keansburg's water allotment troubles were still looming, and the Rubinstein project was likely not going to receive a necessary approval from the DEP unless the borough stepped in.

Kyrillos's involvement

Leonard Rubinstein and his associated companies have regularly contributed to Kyrillos's campaigns since 1997. From October 2001 to April 2005, Rubinstein and his companies gave Kyrillos at least $5,450, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) reports.

The funds were contributed as follows: two $1,000 contributions on October 26, 2001; a $2,200 contribution on October 27, 2004; a $500 contribution on December 14, 2004, which was returned on January 20, 2005; a $500 contribution on February 9, 2005; and a $250 contribution on April 11, 2005.

In March and April 2005, Wall said he received several phone calls from Kyrillos and officials who said Kyrillos had contacted them on behalf of Rubinstein.
Kyrillos said that he had known Rubinstein and his family for over 15 years. When the “Restore the Pride” council came into power, Kyrillos said Rubinstein had difficulty communicating with the new administration and asked the senator for his assistance.

“There was a change in administration, and he couldn't get his calls returned. He couldn't communicate in any way and he asked me for help. And I think I called the mayor at the time when he took office, and I said, 'George (Hoff), communicate with this guy. Talk to him, meet with him and if it's a good project, great; if it's a bad project, tell him that. But at least have the courtesy to communicate with him; he's a landowner in the town.' And that's what I do. That's part of my job,” Kyrillos said. “If he had his issue with the DEP-I think he did that on his own. If he had asked me to help get a meeting with the DEP, I'd have done that, but he didn't, he already had it. At some point, his permit was going to expire. I called Terence, I left a voice mail. I said, 'Look, will you talk to this guy.' And that's what the town ought to be doing, that's what they're paid to do.”

Wall, however, said the borough was responsive to calls placed to his office.

“The specific parties would agree that their calls are returned. My door is always opened. It's opened to all residents and property owners in the town,” Wall said.

While Kyrillos said he did not contact the DEP, the state senator did contact the New Jersey American Water Company, according to documents obtained through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request from the borough.

A phone message and a note written by Wall, state that David Legg of the New Jersey American Water Company contacted the borough manager after speaking with Kyrillos.
Wall's note reads: “David Legg stated that Joe Kyrillos spoke to him several times re: water contract.”

Legg confirmed that the conversations between himself and Kyrillos took place regarding water availability and the “debate” going on between Rubinstein and the Borough Council.

Kyrillos firmly denied that the campaign contributions amounted to influence peddling or a conflict of interest in discussing the Rubinstein project with Keansburg officials.

“[Individuals] contribute to me because they believe in me and because they support me and I've got a responsibility to raise money as a party leader, as an individual senator. People come to me, 99 percent of the time they've never contributed to me and I've never heard of them. They are people that come in off the street. It happens that this fellow has contributed to me a few times over the years,” Kyrillos said. “I've raised a lot of money and in this state, necessarily so because of the way Democrats in New Jersey raise money hand over fist. And I owe it to myself and my constituents and the people that believe that we're better off with someone like me around to stay strong, so I make no apologies for that.”

Wall, however, said the nature of the phone calls he received from Kyrillos and officials who said they had had discussions with Kyrillos regarding the Rubinstein project made the borough manager feel “uncomfortable.”

“I received a voicemail from the senator regarding a signature that was required from my office [regarding DEP approval for the Rubinstein project]. I was not comfortable returning that call,” Wall said.

Deputy Mayor Drew Murray said he was “taken aback” when he heard the voice mail message Kyrillos left Wall.

“Here I am running around as an elected official, we as a town are trying to reach out to him to help us with our water problem, to help us with the schools, and he has the audacity to call us up about his buddy who gave him money to say help turn on the water? Is that what it takes for you to help us with something? Give you money?” Murray said. “Why should a senator be worried about helping developers? Don't tell me that it's your job to make phone calls.”

Murray also stated that he felt Kyrillos was putting undue pressure on the town to help Rubinstein with the water permit application before the DEP.

Residents divided on beachfront development

Before extensive development occurs on the beachfront, Murray said he believes developers should help improve the center of Keansburg.

“The beach is not going anywhere. Develop our inner city first and then develop the beach. It's the center of town that needs help,” Murray said.

Tommy Keelen, a lifelong resident of Keansburg and a business owner in town, said beachfront development would bring much-needed rateables to the borough.

“I think we should be pro-development on a beachfront property,” Keelen said. “I'm sick of seeing prime real estate property growing weeds on it.”

Murray, however, said he is concerned about the number of school-age children beachfront development will bring in to the borough's taxed school district. He noted that, in addition to the 48 townhouses proposed by the Rubinstein project, 48 townhouses have also been proposed for the Cappadona project.

“Where are we going to put these kids if we don't have the schools? If we build these places, where are the kids going to go? Why doesn't [Kyrillos] fight for our schools?” Murray said.

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