Developers return favor to Mike Lenz: Update
LENZ MET WITH DEVELOPER BEFORE VOTE!
Hoboken411 reported Tuesday that Lenz accepted $1000 in developer campaign contributions after voting to uphold zoning variances for those same developers. Lenz fought community activists who appealed a Zoning Board decision to give the owners of 226 Park Avenue an additional floor and units before accepting the contributions. Lenz has not disputed one word of the story since it was published.
Now Hoboken411 can report Lenz met with developer Kyle Enger at the Coach House Restaurant BEFORE the hearing to discuss how Lenz could help him keep his variances. This is eerily similar to the kind of activity that led to the incarceration of Cammarano, who also promised zoning variance consideration to a developer at a diner before a contribution was made.
More details emerge after original Hoboken411 exclusive
Since the story broke, people with first-hand knowledge of the meeting have confirmed Lenz and Enger specifically met to discuss the case prior to the hearing.
Judging by comments from former Corporation Counsel Michael Kates, the Coach House meeting was wholly inappropriate under the law. Kates advised the council they shouldn’t discuss the appeal with anyone, and that such discussions were “extracurricular” and should be “disregarded.”
Engers scolded for improperly lobbying the City Council
During the open public comment portion of the March 10, 2010 City Council meeting, Enger’s wife Joan gave a speech explaining why she felt Dan Tumpson’s appeal of the variances should be dismissed. After this speech, City Attorney Kates directed council members not to respond to what she said, and to completely disregard it as “uncalled for” under the law.
Kyle Enger then angrily yelled out at Kates from the audience, and the gavel came down. Take a look at how it transpired on video to see how inappropriate a meeting between Lenz and Enger would have been under the circumstances.
Watching that video it’s clear that any meeting between Lenz and Enger prior to the hearing would be considered improper, which is probably why it was held in North Bergen instead of Hoboken. Lenz holds many meetings at the Coach House when he doesn’t want people from the Mile Square City to see them.
Unlike most council business (which is legislative and open to discussion and lobbying) Zoning Appeal Hearings are quasi-judicial proceedings under the law. Members of the council can only consider “de novo” testimony entered into evidence during the original Zoning Board process. They cannot entertain other arguments.
Was there a Quid Pro Quo?
The question many are asking is, did Lenz promise to assist Enger in exchange for campaign contributions?
Lenz did help Enger, and Enger and his partner Anthony Sabia did give Lenz $1000, according to Lenz’s own campaign finance report. Lenz obviously isn’t talking, and so far none of the junior reporters working for the print media outlets have stepped up to ask the question – yet.
But wait, there’s more!
Sabia didn’t just get a favor from Lenz at 226 Park. Lenz also gave him cover for a $30,000 city garage lease at 1714 Willow.
Details on that, and the original story with all the documentation including video on Lenz’s help to a developer who later returned the favor with a $1000 contribution, after the jump!
Sabia also owns 1714 Willow Avenue Garage
Michael Lenz and Dawn Zimmer dismissed public bids made in a Request For Proposals process for a place to relocate the Municipal Garage.
The Sabia brothers did not participate in the RFP process, but suddenly at the last minute the city signed a 60-day, $30,000 lease for 1714 Willow anyway. On the night the council voted on the move, Perry Belfiore rose to inform them they had a major legal conflict, since Hoboken Unleashed had a pre-existing lease for 1714 Willow. Others advised the council they should hold off on the move until they learned whether they were getting into yet another legal mess.
Lenz presses Sabia lease, calls citizen detractors despicable
Lenz called Belfiore’s motivations for bringing up the lease “despicable,” and called on the council to go forward with the move to the Sabia property. That led the city into court, and back to the old Municipal Garage. Sabia was paid $15,000 a month rent by Zimmer for a property originally advertised at $9000 a month. Budget and Finance committee Chair Mike Lenz approved that “premium” price. Lenz later received a $500 donation from Anthony Sabia, who owns 1714 Willow and is the development partner of Kyle Enger at 226 Park.
The original story about Lenz, Enger, Sabia and the $1000 developer donation continues below…
Campaign donations follow vote to uphold variances
If Peter Cammarano collected $1000 in campaign contributions from a developer he personally secured a height variance for, it would be called corruption. What should it be called when Mike Lenz does it?
The unelected 4th ward councilman’s 11-day pre-election ELEC campaign finance reporting form is in, and it includes a pair of controversial developer donations.
Lenz defends height variance; gets $1k developer cash
Back in April, Lenz was the chief council opponent against community activist Dan Tumpson’s petition to overturn a Zoning Board height variance approval. Lenz fought to defend a developer’s right to build a 4-story building in a 3-story zone. Today, that developer is thanking Lenz for his help to the tune of $1000 in campaign contributions. This is a shot of Lenz’s ELEC form with notations for two $500 donations, one from Kyle Enger and the other from his development partner Anthony Sabia:
Sabia testified on 226 Park Avenue as the “contractor and a principal of the applicant” to the Zoning Board. Enger is a local real estate investor/developer listed as the owner of the property on the official NJ real estate database:
2 story building bought & destroyed
Not that long ago, a 2-story home stood at 226 Park. Enger bought the property, tore down the building, and prepared his variance application for the Zoning Board. By law he could have built a 3-story building on the property, but wanted the additional value of 4 stories. The Zoning Board held hearings on the application in August and October of 2009, with mostly Roberts-era holdovers (including Lenz campaign strategist Tony Soares) approving the variances despite strong community opposition.
Fallick and Tumpson take aim at Lenz
The decision was formally approved by resolution at the May 19th City Council meeting. Watch this video of Cheryl Fallick and Dan Tumpson protesting how Lenz handled himself during the appeal. (Note: Fallick is also a Dawn Zimmer appointee to the Rent Leveling Board)
Lenz would not respond to their protest, saying instead he already said what he had to say about their objections during the hearing.
Lenz and The Law
Is it illegal to vote in favor of a developer’s height variance in May, only to turn around and receive money from those developers for a political campaign in October? Strictly speaking, no. As long as no quid-pro-quo can be proven, no law has been broken. The story here is how Michael Lenz, who has run a campaign based solely on painting the sins of others on his opponent, is playing the same kind of fast games as the people he condemns.
Peter Cammarano went to prison for taking campaign contributions in exchange for a promise of assistance with Zoning Variances. Michael Lenz sustained Zoning Variances, and turned to the same developers for campaign contributions. In fact, Kyle Enger had a large Cammarano for Mayor banner draped across his 5th and Garden home for several weeks last year.
Pots and Kettles, or Hypocricy on Parade? You decide. Comment below.