Verona, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Improvement Authority announced that 80 acres of the Hilltop property was sold to a major real estate developer during a press conference in the Verona Community Center on Tuesday, January 4th.
The developer, K Hovnanian Northeast Companies, Inc. from Edison paid the ECIA $18.5 million for the property. After paying about $669,000 in commissions and transaction fees, the County has applied the remaining proceeds to pay down debt service on the 1995 sale of the Hilltop to the ECIA.
“Hilltop had been an unresolved issue until my administration took over. Our first attempt in starting the land transfers and sales occurred this past summer when we conveyed property to Cedar Grove and North Caldwell for recreational purposes. Today we continue our commitment to close a long dormant issue that created an obstacle for future projects. Our immediate attention has helped fulfill our promises to create more recreational space and pay down our debt,” DiVincenzo said.
DiVincenzo attributed the smooth negotiations to the hard work by the administration, the ECIA, the Essex County Utilities Authority, the municipalities of Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, North Caldwell and Verona, and the developer. To expedite negotiations and prevent any new delays from occurring, DiVincenzo held weekly meetings with representatives from all parties involved.
“Every Wednesday morning when we sat together, there were no secrets. Our discussions were very open and honest, and led to a great result,” ECIA Executive Director James Paganelli said. “Great strides have been made by this administration. Under Joe’s leadership, we delivered a result that substantially reduced the debt service on Hilltop,” he added.
Although there is a Master Plan that outlines development on the Hilltop, it did not identify a vendor that would provide an adequate source of water for the new homes. DiVincenzo helped to address this potential future problem by including the Borough of Essex Fells in the weekly meetings. As a result, an agreement was made between Essex Fells, North Caldwell and Verona to provide adequate water to the Hilltop.
“Joe DiVincenzo was there and understood the needs of our community. He wanted to preserve as much open space as possible,” North Caldwell Mayor Mel Levine said. “I never thought this was going to happen, but today we are getting a lot more open space than we ever imagined we would have,” said North Caldwell Mayor Mel Levine.
One by product of these discussions was the creation of additional recreation space on the Hilltop for Verona. During the press conference on Tuesday, January 4th, DiVincenzo and Verona Mayor Robert DeTore announced an agreement in which the County and ECIA will transfer five parcels, that add up to almost nine acres, of Hilltop property to Verona.
A majority of the land mass going to Verona will be used for recreational purposes only. Obtaining ownership of the additional parcels will help Verona more efficiently operate its water supply system because some water tanks owned by the municipality are located on these properties. As part of the agreement, Verona will withdraw a lawsuit it filed against the Essex County Utilities Authority during the previous county administration. The lawsuit alleges the Essex County Utilities Authority defaulted on an agreement with Verona to operate the ECUA’s water system.
“By sharing our resources, we are helping Verona operate its water system more effectively, and we are improving the quality of life for our residents,” DiVincenzo said. “Just as important is the fact that once again we are creating much-needed recreation space where our children and adults can play,” he added.
“This is a very significant accomplishment for all our towns. Your leadership has taken us to a very historic day,” said DeTore, commending the County Executive. The Mayor added that the recreation space being created will be a much-needed addition in Verona.
Essex County sold the Hilltop to the ECIA to balance its budget in 1995. The concept was for the ECIA to resell the property to a third party and use the revenue to pay Essex County’s debt. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection awarded an $8 million Green Acres grant to help Essex County preserve about 240 acres of the Hilltop. Shortly after taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo negotiated another deal with Green Acres to pay Essex County $3.85 million to preserve an additional 44 acres for recreational purposes.
In August of 2004, DiVincenzo announced that the first two parcels of the Hilltop had been sold. Essex County and the ECIA conveyed about 10.6 acres of land for recreation purposes to Cedar Grove in the amount of $275,000.
Major roadblocks to freeing up the remaining development portion of the Hilltop property were removed when the DiVincenzo administration completed the $416 million correctional facility on Doremus Avenue in Newark and began plans for the new Essex County Hospital Center at an alternate site in Cedar Grove.
K Hovnanian purchased 53 acres of Hilltop along Fairview Avenue in Cedar Grove and Verona for $12,150,000 and is proposing to build 51 single-family houses. The developer also purchased about 27 acres along Mountain Avenue in Caldwell and North Caldwell for $6,394,548 and is proposing to build 27 single-family homes.