Absecon City Council approves Visions development settlement

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ABSECON – City Council unanimously approved a Builders Remedy lawsuit agreement with Amboy Bank, paving the way for the completion of the long-stalled Visions development and ending a costly litigation process.

Council made the decision during a Dec. 19 special meeting with the Planning Board that included a presentation made by Michael A. Jedziniak, Esq., Absecon’s Special Mount Laurel Counsel.

The agreement came after months of negotiations between city officials and representatives of Amboy Bank, which assumed ownership of the Pitney Road project after the original developer went bankrupt several years ago.

Amboy Bank’s representatives had argued that the state’s senior citizen housing market had collapsed leaving few if any potential buyers for homes inside the failed housing development.

Amboy Bank had filed a Builders Remedy suit after the city Planning Board’s December 2013 decision against lifting the 55-plus age restriction that was originally placed on the Visions development.

If Amboy’s Bank attorneys were successful in their lawsuit, any developer would have been able to build up to 672 units at Visions.

In addition, the lawsuit would have become even more costly for the city to defend. Mayor John Armstrong has stated Absecon has already spent nearly $400,000 in 2013 defending the lawsuit.

If the Builders Remedy lawsuit was successful, the city would not have had any control on the types of units built, including the number of bedrooms allowed in each unit.

Regarding the lawsuit, the Mayor had said city officials needed to determine if they could win and how much it would cost.

If the city lost the Builder’s Remedy lawsuit, a developer could have constructed five-story buildings, Jedziniak said.

He strongly recommended that City Council and the Planning Board accept the settlement which included:

A reduced number of units that would total 442, including 42 already constructed at the site.

Of that number, 213 of the units would be one-bedroom units. There would be five, three-bedroom units.

The remaining units would be two-bedroom units, he said.

Jedziniak also said 25 percent of the units will be age-restricted to limit potential impacts on the Absecon Public Schools. However, the school system has about 100 less students than 10 years ago and could accomomade additional students.

Sixty units will be available as affordable housing units and count toward Absecon’s Affordable Housing obligation.

Under the terms of the agreement, building height will be limited to three stories.

Also, the development’s existing 17 homeowners may sell their homes back to the bank for their original price, plus the cost of any improvements they made.

During previous City Council meetings, Mayor Armstrong and Councilman Chris Seher had repeatedly said they wanted to make sure the original homeowners were treated fairly. Those homeowners believed in the original project and purchased their homes when housing prices were there highest and before the housing collapse of 2008-09.

Following a lengthy public comment section that was evenly divided by supporters and dissidents of the proposal, as well as a closed session to discuss the settlement between the council and planning board members, members of the two groups re-opened the meeting to the public.

Council then voted unanimously to settle the litigation in a series of five resolutions.

Included in the resolutions was support for the bank to apply for Hurricane Sandy relief funds for the affordable housing units which, if successful, would repay the city about $400,000 for the costs incurred during the litigation.

A more detailed account of the meeting is available at www.shoremewstoday.com.


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