The start of the first public hearing on the ordinance to rezone Honeywell's property on Thursday night went a little unexpected.
While the financial analysis for redeveloping Honeywell's property and public comment on the impacts took up the majority of the meeting, the major announcement at the beginning was that Deputy Mayor Bruce Sisler and Committeeman Jeff Grayzel will be able to vote on Honeywell's redevelopment plan after all.
After and because of potential conflict of interests, they are now back in the process as of Thursday because the Citizens for Better Planning in Morris Township received enough residents who live within 200 feet of Honeywell's property to sign a petition.
This petition requires the township committee to vote with a super-majority—meaning four votes out of the five committee members—on the redevelopment plan.
The CBPMT released a statement saying the dilemma is the fact that the township committee showed "a lack of due diligence in vetting its members."
With Sisler and Grayzel recused, there would have only been three votes, but Township Attorney John Mills said that under the "doctrine of necessity" the committee must fulfill a legal obligation to have both members for enough votes on the plan to add in residential and office space on the company's 147-acre property.
The financial impacts of the mixed-use additions in the proposed plan have been one of the major concerns addressed, and at the meeting Thursday night, residents finally got to hear from an expert and ask questions.
Fiscal Impacts Presented
The rest of the four-hour meeting consisted of an independent presentation of Honeywell's financial analysis by David Evans, a certified accountant from the township's firm, Nisivoccia.
In Evans' presentation, he explained and offered his own input of the analysis, which is posted on the Morris Township website.
The analysis lays out how the redevelopment is expected to impact both the municipality and the school district.
For each of the two aspects, the report looks at three scenarios, with the first scenario being the one that is most likely to occur if Honeywell builds out its development to its full market projection.
Under the first scenario for the municipal impact, new tax assessments would bring the township an additional $787,900 in revenue per year, and would benefit the municipality $535,100. Evans said that these costs take into account hiring a new full-time police officer and DPW worker.
The other two scenarios, which "reflect financial consequences worse than expected," depict what it would be like if Honeywell only built out 80 and 60 percent of its market projection.
Under the third scenario at 60 percent, the township would have about $278,000 in additional revenue, and only benefit the municipality about $25,000.
Evans said that in his opinion, if the market projection is not between 80 and 100 percent, the project will not be able to get done.
"I think that it's a fairly safe assumption that you're probably going to come out somewhere between 80 to 100 percent of market, which means a net benefit to the town of about between $270,000 and $500,000 a year," he said.
Under the school impact, the "most likely" scenario would add in 38 students and expect to cost the district about $700,000. It would also re-distribute $367,528 to all township taxpayers from "excess" school dollars. The third scenario at 58 students would cost the district more than $1.1 million, and benefit the taxpayer with $527,000 in "excess" dollars.
The basis for the enrollment projection was from a report prepared by Rutgers in 2006. It was used by both Honeywell experts and an independent firm, Evans said.
Evans said they disagree with Honeywell's analysis that there is an economic benefit to the school district.
"In our opinion, the town will benefit positively economically from this redevelopment and will not be harmed from a school tax percentage for these new town homes," he said.
Residents React to Analysis
Out of the dozens of residents who attended Thursday's meeting, several raised concerns about the basis of the numbers presented and how Evans could be confident about the full market projection.
Resident John Gotto asked, "What is the real basis for your optimism or certainty that the end result will be 100 to 80 percent of full market projection?"
Steve Lipsky, another resident, challenged Evans to cite any studies or cases where markets have sold out fully and asked, "How can you justify 100 percent build out with what's been going on the economy?"
Evans responded and said that it is their opinion and best judgement based on the facts and circumstances that they acquired by discussing with department heads, the assessor and the school as to what they think what will happen.
Committeeman Daniel Caffrey added that if the project lasted 5-10 years, the economy would change over time and so would the building values.
While Evans said it is impossible to predict what will actually happen in the future, he said he is "comfortable" with what the firm projects.
Resident Christine Dwyer brought up the issue about what would happen if Honeywell left the state, and the redevelopment didn't even occur.
"Our possible growth with the Honeywell project is minimal compared to the damage that would be done if Honeywell was no longer a functional company and a major tax contributor," she said.
Other community members expressed concern over the COAH obligation—the legal number of affordable housing units needed in order to redevelop the property—because there was talk about extra units being built off the Honeywell campus by West Hanover Avenue and Ketch Road, but Mayor Peter Mancuso confirmed that Honeywell will not build those extra townhouses in that area.
The county does not have that property for sale or for lease, he said, and it is impossible to determine at this point if Honeywell plans to build town homes in other areas because the new obligation is still pending a state court decision.
With only time at the meeting to go over the financial impacts, Mancuso said the next meeting will continue to finish the financial comments and carry into the traffic and environment comments.
The next hearing is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the .