South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and South Orange Trustee Deborah Davis Ford have worked closely together over the years, running together in 2015 and supporting each other’s election bids before that (Collum first became a Trustee in 2013; Davis Ford in 2007).
However that’s all in the past now.
In running against Collum, Davis Ford and the SO Forward campaign have sought to differentiate the soft-spoken Village President challenger who has been known as a positive booster of the town — by attacking Collum’s record. And Collum has fired back.
The latest SO Forward campaign flier takes Collum to task for several projects that seem to be stalled or moving slowly, saying that Collum “has spent tax dollars on ‘planning,” while getting “nothing.. done to revitalize our downtown.” The flier shows photos of four commercial parcels with the following captions:
For the former Village Hall building at Scotland Road and South Orange Avenue — “Nothing has been done to the Landmark Hospitality Group project.”
For the Lustbader/HubRealty project, made up of several parcels on South Orange Avenue between Vose and Scotland — “The Blockbuster site has been closed for 7 years and counting.”
For 4th & Valley (the former Monty’s Motors) — “The Meridia project is still not moving forward.”
For the Church Street Parking Lot (at South Orange Avenue) — “Nothing has been done to the gravel lot.”
The flier also states, “The South Orange Forward Team — led by Deborah Davis Ford — will institute a statutory revitalization committee that is composed of Members of the Trustee Board, civic leaders, and experts. This committee will be accountable to our taxpayers.”
Collum fired back with a detailed update on the four parcels at the center of the flier and asked how SOForward’s proposed “revitalization committee” would differ from the Village’s current development committee.
Regarding Village Hall, Collum said that an adjacent property owner had sued the township, delaying the project, until the Township “entered into a settlement agreement” supported by Davis Ford. In the case of 4th & Valley, Collum addressed Davis Ford, saying the project had received “all approvals from the governing body (you voted in favor of it) and received an approval for a financial agreement and approvals for the site-plan from the Planning Board. As we discussed at a recent event (and you agreed), the Village does not control the property.”
Regarding the Lustbader/Blockbuster/HubRealty site, Collum wrote that the project “is in its final stages and as you are also aware, the remaining issue was a fair parking agreement between the town and the developer.” Collum said that regarding the Church Street lot owned by Ed Ayuso, the Township had rejected the private property owner’s proposed “high-end condos ($850,000/unit) with no retail.”
“There’s no reason for taxpayers to subsidize luxury housing with no affordable housing onsite,” wrote Collum. “These are the type of agreements I put a stop to once I was elected. We need to negotiate from a position of strength and not desperation.”
“I am formally requesting we have a debate on Planning and Redevelopment,” Collum wrote. “As a part of the debate, I would love if we could also speak about project finance, tax abatements, rateables, affordable housing, community give-backs, local redevelopment and housing laws, community form and design, density, residential site improvement standards, walkable urbanism, our master plan, and any other topic you feel is relevant to this particular topic (I will have no objections to whatever you propose).”
Village Green has reached out to the SO Forward campaign for response and will update this story when it is received.
See the flier below.
See Collum’s response below the flier.