Residents blasted local officials, including Mayor Chris Vergano, at a council meeting Wednesday regarding a plan Vergano and town planner John Szabo developed to help improve the town’s ratable base.
People said that the plan is a political ploy and was only developed because it is an election year.
Szabo introduced the sweeping development plan at a Planning Board meeting earlier this month. It calls for the redevelopment and rezoning of several vacant and underutilized properties, including the Wayne Hills Mall.
Al Frech, a member of the Passaic County Republican Committee, accused officials of fast tracking the plan and of not being transparent and open with residents about it.
“It was brought about during the dog days of August,” said Al Frech, a member of the Tea Party. “I wonder why it is being fast tracked? I’m calling for more public discussion. Let’s slow it down and take time to look at it.”
Other residents objected to the plan because of the alleged power it will give to developers.
“My concern is with sustainable land development,” said Patricia Rivera. “Developers will have too much power to develop what they want.”
The plan places more of an emphasis on getting mixed-use properties, which are developments with both commercial and residential units on them, in town. Szabo said that he does not want to separate land uses anymore. He said he wants synergy between them.
Vergano shot back at the critics.
“I have an obligation as the mayor of this community to do something about the ratable base,” Vergano said. “There are no secrets here.”
Vergano referenced the fact that the town lost $21 million in tax ratables last year, noting that some commercial property owners are “not paying their fair share.”
The owner of the Wayne Hills Mall is seeking an appeal of the property’s assessment in court. A lower assessment would mean he would pay fewer property taxes.
“When they pay less, we pay more,” Vergano said. “For us to sit back and wait for the businesses to come, it’s not going to happen.”
Szabo will discuss the plan further with the Planning Board at a meeting Monday.