Tierra Del Sol: The tale of the tape
Published in the August 11, 2005 issue of The Courier.
Tierra Del Sol: The tale of the tape
By JACKIE CORLEY
Last week, The Courier reported that officials in Keansburg felt that state Sen. Joe Kyrillos was putting pressure on them to contact the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on behalf of developer Leonard Rubinstein.
Kyrillos firmly denies the charge, noting that he was merely addressing a “constituent service issue” on behalf of Rubinstein, a long-time friend who happened to be a campaign contributor. On May 10, 2005, the DEP rejected a water permit application of Rubinstein’s Keansburg project, Tierra Del Sol.
While Keansburg officials and Kyrillos disagree about the nature of the discussions that took place, both parties confirmed the existence of a voicemail message the senator left at Keansburg Borough Manager Terence Wall’s office.
Wall said that Kyrillos’s voicemail made him feel “uncomfortable” and he did not return the call. The date the message was left is not known.
Shortly after receiving the message, Wall played it to members of the governing body, who asked him not to delete the call.
Deputy Mayor Drew Murray said he was “taken aback” when he heard the 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 our 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.”
What was said in the voicemail?
The Courier filed an Open Public Records Act request, specifically asking for copies of all documents and official correspondences pertaining to the Rubinstein project, including the voicemail message.
The transcript of the minute-long message is as follows: “Hey Terence, it’s Joe Kyrillos calling, hope all is well. It’s Thursday afternoon. Terence, you may know a guy named Len Rubinstein, [he] actually lives in Holmdel. He’s got a development project in Keansburg he’s trying to [coughing], excuse me, commence. I’ve talked to the mayor about it a couple times to find out if he thinks it’s a good project. He assures me that he thinks it is a good project. And I guess, he’s been really hung up on a water issue. He tells me that New Jersey American Water Company has some arrangements with the town that you have to execute. The DEP is going to make him refile all his permits. He’ll lose, he’ll probably lose six to nine months if he can’t do what he has to do I think in the next 30 or so days. I’m not sure how long he has. Can you look into it and if it’s the right thing to do to get this thing executed and not lose the potential for this project, we can get it going? If you want to talk about it, I’m at (732) [deleted].”
History of the project
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 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.
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 board approved the resolution with five members voting in favor of the application, one voting against it and three members abstaining.
From 2002 until 2005, Executive Development, LLC sought various approvals from the DEP that stalled the project during that time.
Shortly after 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.
O’Keefe, in a memorandum issued to Wall, 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.
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 public documents.
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 denied that the campaign contributions amounted to influence peddling or a conflict of interest in discussing the Rubinstein project with Keansburg officials.
Kyrillos has some support
In a press release, four members of Keansburg’s Republican Organization issued statements supporting Kyrillos and the work he has done for the borough.
“When our new council majority met with the senator after the election, we spoke of some redevelopment and about our neighboring communities already attracting some beautiful projects. I am tired of seeing empty unsightly land not being developed as well. Who else could give us better advise than our senator?” Keansburg Republican Chair Mary Foley said.
Former Keansburg Republican Chairman Sam Arguinzoni said he did not believe Kyrillos would ever place pressure on local officials.
“I have known and worked with Joe Kyrillos for many years as chairman of the Republican Party and I know Joe Kyrillos would never pressure anyone; it is not his style,” Arguinzoni said.
The borough is still in talks with Rubinstein regarding Tierra Del Sol.
(The voicemail message left by Kyrillos can be heard at http://www.bayshorenews.com.)