Cliffside Park attempts land grab outside of borders
“Cliffside Park is trying to condemn a building it has been leasing from a local business owner for more than a year to store its trucks.
But the land isn’t in Cliffside Park. It’s in Fairview.
The property owners, Bridget Tapkas and her family, bought the former lace factory so they could expand their adjacent car dealership on Broad Avenue. But because they weren’t ready for an expansion, they have been leasing the land to Cliffside Park since August 2007.
More than a year after the lease was signed, the borough offered to buy the land, but Tapkas declined. Then, about a week ago, she received a notice that the borough had initiated eminent domain proceedings.
“We’re scared,” Tapkas said. “How’s that fair? How’s that right?”
The move apparently stems from delays at another project in Fairview. Cliffside Park and Fairview have worked together since 2003 to convert a 1.6-acre parcel at 770 Fairview Ave. into a shared public works facility. Under an agreement with Fairview, Cliffside Park was solely responsible for condemning the land. Funding for the project was to come through the two municipalities and the Bergen County Improvement Authority.
Carmine Alampi, Fairview’s Planning Board attorney, said the borough agreed to the project because, as part of the deal, Bergen County agreed to fund construction of flood prevention mechanisms in the borough. Now, he said, that part of the deal appears to be in jeopardy.
“We have since learned that the county does not favor these … mechanisms,” he said. “We are reassessing our position.”
With that deal in limbo, Cliffside Park is in danger of losing a home for its public works vehicles. But Alampi said condemning another property in Fairview is not a solution.
“It just appears to me that if any town could condemn property in any other town, you’d have a breakdown in the rule of law,” he said.
Cliffside Park’s legal team doesn’t agree. Bill Maer, a spokesman for the borough, said officials there are confident the law is on their side.
“We feel the appropriate course of action is to proceed,” he said. “It’s in the public good.”
Tapkas’ attorney, Anthony Della Pelle, wants to know how Fairview would benefit from such a seizure. He described the eminent domain action as a land grab and an abuse of power.
Della Pelle said Tapkas would fight to keep the land.
“It is this type of attempting to take land that is restricted by the courts,” he said. “Just think how out of control things could get: You put your public works facility in our town, and we’ll put our garbage dump or jail in yours.”
This sort of rationale is likely to affect the outcome of Tapkas’ case, but she also expressed concern about what she characterized as a breach of goodwill. She said that after she and Cliffside Park arrived at a lease agreement, she arranged to have the building retrofitted so that trucks could be driven in and out. That work, along with the renovation of restrooms, cost her $200,000, she said.
“We gave them quite a discount on the rent,” Tapkas said. “It’s not fair. … What’s my incentive to go into a deal with a municipality again?”
Maer gave a completely different assessment of the situation.
“We feel that we’ve treated this individual appropriately,” he said.
McKirdy & Riskin’s Anthony Della Pelle, www.mrod.law, serves as special condemnation counsel to the property owner, Bridget Tapkas and her family, in this dispute.