The Fort Lee Mayor and Council Wednesday passed an ordinance to acquire land at 183 Main St. that will ultimately become a park on the western half of Redevelopment Area 5.

A resolution “amicably” settling a lawsuit over the property, which is currently occupied by Woori Bank, also passed unanimously, paving the way for the borough to purchase the land for $2,050,000, of which slightly more than $1.95 million will be financed through bonding.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich estimated that the property is worth nearly three times what the borough is paying for it and said that having the bank building there “would have a detrimental effect on the entire area.”

Sokolich said Tucker Redevelopment Associates, the developer of the West parcel of Redevelopment Area 5, will pay for the demolition of the building and “for every cent” of developing the land as a park in accordance with the governing body’s specifications, but that Fort Lee will own the land.

Woori Bank has until June 30, 2013 to relocate, according to borough attorney Lee Cohen.

“The thought was that truly that property needs to be part of this development, and like there is a park on the East parcel, this would be a park on the West parcel,” Sokolich said.

“And we know that ultimately with the development of that site, many of those stores, restaurants, what have you, will open and interact with that park. It just seemed to me that it was an inextricable part of that property; why it was treated differently was that it was separate ownership, separate use, separate lease.”

The settlement of the lawsuit, which Sokolich said was resolved amicably but which was not immediately available for public release Wednesday, lays out all the specifics for ending the suit, the timing of the relocation and “settles all issues” among all three parties, according to Cohen, including the property owner, the borough and Tucker.

Sokolich also noted the importance of the suit having been dismissed “with prejudice.”

“There was litigation; it since had been dismissed—however, without prejudice,” he said. “There always was the ability to reactivate it, for lack of a better term.”

Borough officials “always wanted” the property to be part of the redevelopment zone, according to Sokolich, who said the roughly $2 million “has absolutely, unequivocally nothing to do with the resolution of that lawsuit.”

As part of the settlement, the town will acquire the property in a “friendly condemnation” proceeding.

“Because it’s being settled as a friendly, and it’s otherwise being amicably resolved, that falls squarely into what was contemplated in the redevelopment agreement with the contribution from the West developer,” Sokolich said, adding, “I think in the long run we’ve made a tremendous investment for Fort Lee, considering the value of that property; we’re acquiring a park in the heart of a very busy, dense area.”


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