A member of the Board of Adjustment, a body that approves development projects by granting variances, is considering filing an ethics complaint against council president Maritza Davila and councilman Luis Velez.
Davila and Velez appeared before the board in June to influence its decision-making process. Both urged the board to approve a 59-unit housing complex at 186 Cedar Street proposed by developer Charles Florio.
“My thought is to file this complaint to stop them from harassing us at the meetings,” said Lee Mondelli, who has been on the board for seven years. “My goal is for them to stop.”
Both council members came to the meeting and said they were there as residents of Paterson expressing support for a project that will improve the area.
“Both said we’re not here as council people and the first thing they do is say, I’m council president Davila and I’m councilman Velez,” said Mondelli.
Mondelli is not alone. Other Board of Adjustment members have expressed their displeasure at City Council members attempting to coax and coerce them into supporting or opposing certain projects.
Roger Grier, another board member, publicly spoke out against council members attempting to exert influence over the board.
Some pointed to potential conflicts of interest. Velez rents a property owned by Florio; and Davila handed out scholarships at Eastside High School weeks earlier that were funded by Florio.
A pair of attorneys, who are well-versed in land use law and familiar with the board, described the council members’ move as something that’s frowned upon.
It’s “inappropriate,” said one attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He has represented clients before the board for years.
“When you have elected officials, who show up at meetings it gives what the Municipal Land Use Law calls an appearance of impropriety,” said a second attorney. “You should avoid that at all costs.”
Velez defended himself by stating he spoke in favor of the project because it’s located in the 5th Ward, an area he represents. Neither the board’s attorney nor its president discouraged him from speaking on the project, he said.
“I stated on the record I’m here as a constituent,” said Velez. He said some board members questioned him as a council member by asking about quality of life issues in the area. “I don’t see a conflict.”
Davila did not respond to a call for comment.
Florio’s project was approved at the Jun. 20, 2019 meeting, allowing him to build a four-story building that will have 59 apartments, according to municipal records. He said it will cost $11 million to build.
“I feel bad for the council members,” said Florio. He said both Davila and Velez saw a good project that will put a contaminated piece of land to productive use and decided to support it. “I’m happy they want.”
When asked if the project would have been approved without the council members’ speaking in favor of it, Mondelli replied, “Absolutely.”
Some on the board expressed concerns about parking and wanted Florio to remove an entire floor. Florio’s team huddled at the meeting and agreed to remove one floor to assuage the board’s concerns.
The project was approved in a 6-1 vote.