If you’ve driven east on Bloomfield Avenue recently, you may have wondered why the apartments going up by Verona Park have Tyvek on all sides but one. The simple answer is that the owner of the insurance business next to the apartments won’t let the developer’s construction crew on his driveway to install it. After that, it gets complicated.
Last September, Mark De Mattheis, a 1983 graduate of Verona High School who has made a career in commercial and residential real estate development, broke ground on two small apartment buildings on the former Brunner Auto property. The Verona Board of Adjustment had approved the project in January 2014 after hearing favorable feedback from neighboring residents. Construction seemed to be moving along at a good clip, but behind the scenes there was trouble.
According to an affidavit filed by De Mattheis with the township on June 10, Greg Paglianite, the owner of the neighboring building at 457 Bloomfield Avenue, had repeatedly refused to sign the agreement needed to allow De Mattheis’ crew to work on the west side of the apartments. De Mattheis had sent the draft license agreement to Paglianite, who operates a State Farm office from the ground floor of his building, on October 8, 2015. These kind of agreements are routine in real estate developments in urban areas, where tight quarters often mean that construction on one property requires a scaffolding on another.
But when this spring rolled around, Paglianite still hadn’t signed. On April 1, 2016, De Mattheis spoke to the insurance agent by phone again, who, according to the affidavit, had several demands, including the payment of $1,000 per day for every day the developer needed access to the driveway. De Mattheis estimates in the affidavit that he would need at least 30 days’ access.(MyVeronaNJ.com obtained the affidavit through an Open Public Records Act request.)
“Neighbor [Paglianite] subsequently reduced this outrageous figure to $15,000,” the affidavit notes, “which is equally unjustified in view of the Entity [De Mattheis] mitigating any inconvenience to Neighbor by leasing the Lease Property [the former Lisboa BBQ lot], closer to the Neighbor’s front door than his own existing parking lot.”
De Mattheis met with Paglianite on May 23 and reached a verbal agreement to pay $10,000 for access, provided that Paglianite sign the access agreement by the end of that week. He didn’t. De Mattheis complied with two more weeks of paperwork demands from Paglianite, and still didn’t get an agreement. With the bricks for the facade about to be delivered, De Mattheis sent the town the affidavit to get a “certificate of necessity”, a declaration that would compel Paglianite to open his driveway to the construction workers. It was granted and on Tuesday, June 28, De Mattheis’ crews were supposed to finally get access to the facade.
They arrived that morning to find safety cones and a pickup truck blocking their way. The Verona Police Department and Construction Official Tom Jacobsen were called to the scene. Paglianite wouldn’t budge and Jacobsen left to file a summons. If upheld in court next week, Paglianite could face a fine of up to $1,000 a day, plus jail time.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Paglianite initially said he was motivated by safety concerns, which he said had shared with the town. “They are doing this illegally,” he said of the town’s issuance of the certificate of necessity. “They are trying to bully me.” He then said that he was losing walk-in traffic to his insurance business because the sidewalk in front is closed. In fact the sidewalk is open from Verona Park to the front of his business. There is a sign at Park Avenue directing any pedestrians who might walk the south side to the opposite side of the street but the sidewalk is open to the edge of the construction site.
Paglianite said he was unable to participate in the Board of Adjustment and Town Council meetings on the project–where he could have voice concerns that might have altered the project–because he had an ill employee and ill parents. He emailed this reporter a letter sent by his lawyer to the town on May 6, asserting that construction permit protocol was being “disregarded”. He emailed again Tuesday evening to add that he had blocked the driveway that morning because a contractor was coming that morning to install a drop ceiling in his tenant’s space and he was “setting up for them”.
Asked if any other residents or businesses had complained about the Verona Place construction, Township Manager Matthew Cavallo said “not that I’m aware of”. Mark De Mattheis did not respond to a request for comment on this story.