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Sparks Fly Over Proposal To Demolish Howard Commons in Eatontown

EATONTOWN: Mayor Gerald Tarantolo's plan to bond for the demolition of Howard Commons and have the cost reimbursed by the developer ultimately chosen to develop the area was met with criticism from some member of the Eatontown Council and public.

Tarantolo the first step in the process of doing the demolition is to know what it would cost to do so.

Looking for council giving permission to engineer to prepare a specification to go out to potential contractors and see essentially what it would cost to demolish the buildings that are now comprised of Howard Commons," Tarantolo said at the Oct. 8 Eatontown Council meeting. "The proposal I put forth was that we would engage in a contract where by if we bonded for the demolition, the conditions of the sale of the property would assure us that the bonding that we put into place to demolish those buildings would be refunded to the borough as a condition."

Councilman Dennis Connelly said he would not be in favor of bonding for the demolition.

"There's not going to be any chance that I'm going to be willing to pay or have our taxpayer pay for any bonding, there's other methods that we can still do," Connelly said. "I would actually be in favor, if we wanted to spend some money, is maybe having our attorney start looking into some legal recourse that this borough can do for going after FMERA or the government for leaving the buildings in this condition."

Councilman Anthony Talerico then brought a statement that was written on a flyer distributed by the the Republican candidates who are running for spots on the Eatontown Council. Connelly is running for mayor against Tarantolo and Councilman Mark Regan and newcomer Donna Diedreichsen are running against Democratic challengers Albert Baginsky and and Matthew Jacobs.

The flyer stated that the GOP candidates will "employ a practical, straightforward and efficient strategy using the media and the legal system to force FMERA's hand in demolishing Howard Commons and live up to their responsibility."

Talerico asked that the council go into executive session to discuss the strategy before deciding on whether or not pursue getting costs for demolishing the buildings.

The council did ultimately go into executive session but did not take any action once it returned to the public, so it remains to be seen if the legal strategy will be used or if the borough will purse getting demolition prices.

Before going into executive session, Connelly said he felt that FMERA already received costs for demolition and that those numbers could be used to give an idea of what it would cost the borough.

"We already know that FMERA has a different estimates of what the cost is, so why do we have to do it ourselves"

Borough Attorney Andy Bayer said the cost of demolition would likely be in the millions.

"Whatever the price is, we all know it's seven plus figures, it's just a question of how many multiples of seven that we're talking about," Bayer said.

Tarantolo said that although he would be willing to hear the legal strategy, he said it would also have a cost to the taxpayers.

"The option you outlined is not refundable," Tarantolo said. "The cost of taking the legal route as you just emphasized certainly that is money coming from the taxpayers that we're not going to have refunded."

Resident Mark Van Wagner spoke and said he did not want residents to pay for the demolition.

"I want the people responsible to do their job, FMERA is here to redevelop the fort," Van Wagner said. "If you recall the pitch with the fort, not a dime would be spent by this town to develop it. When you float that bond, I'm going to be paying some portion of it."

"The conditions we have established over the demolition and the bonding hopefully is assured by a contract that we will be reimbursed for the cost of the bonding, simple as that," the mayor responded. "If that doesn't happen it's a done deal, we don't do it. If the costs come back and they are out of range, it's a dead deal and nothing happens."

Talerico said he did not want to have the borough lose money on a deal, but did want to hear how much it would cost for the demolition.

"I don't believe there's any one up here that would agree with any situation where the residents are going to be losing money on the deal," Talerico said.

Tarantolo later responded to the GOP flyer by saying that he "gets a little tired when hears inaccurate things."

Connelly responded by saying "you say enough of them."

"That's what politics are up here," Connelly said.

"No, that's what your politics are up here," the mayor responded.

"Mayor, I've been listening to it for 16 years, and you're done," Connelly added.

"You hear that everyone, let's see if that's going to happen," Tarantolo responded.

Resident Maria Escalante criticized the council for having a political debate during the meeting

"What you guys are doing tonight is ridiculous, you're politicking, this is a town council meeting, not a time to do politics, can we please get back to matters that pertain to our town," she said.

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