Evesham: A battlefield within a battlefield
Could an apartment building with a 2018 PILOT deal become a lightning rod problem in one of Burlington County’s most strategic municipalities this election season? Republicans are running on the platform of a municipal revival, but defending Democrats are calling it an example of cronyism, given that the property is being developed by a powerful local Republican family.
The Township of Evesham, a municipality of some 45,000 people, is a battlefield within a battlefield. Democratic Mayor Jaclyn Veasy seeks re-election, running on a ticket with two incumbents, Patricia Hansen and Heather Cooper. Republican mayoral candidate Dennis Mehigan, along with Bonnie Olt and Michael Thompson for the council, are running to unseat the incumbents. Unsurprisingly, the former mayor, Randy Browngave his full support to his fellow Republicans and organized campaign fundraising events for them.
Brown is not a defeated mayor. A kicking consultant for the Ravens football team, in 2018 Mayor Brown announced that he would not try to score another campaign goal and that Councilman Steve Zeuli would take over as Republican. In a close election, Veasy beat its rival 52.04% to 47.90% and the township went from red to blue in Trump’s midterm year known as “The Blue Wave”. In 2020, Biden won Burlington County’s largest municipality by a 13-point margin, a good sign for Democrats. The mood darkened a year later, however, Governor Phil Murphy only won Evesham by 2 points. In the deadly atmosphere of the pandemic, the Blue Wave seemed to turn into a ripple. Statewide, Jack Ciattarelli had come within a handful of defeating Murphy and returning Trenton to a Republican executive.
The township of Evesham is part of the 3rd Congressional District, represented by Congressman Andy Kim who is in a close race against Republican challenger Bob Healey. CD-3 is one of the most competitive races in New Jersey’s Congress, behind the furious election tightrope walker that is CD-7. Due to the redrawing, CD-3 is slightly bluer than before, a surface advantage for Democrats but also an inspiration that is likely to spur a revunchist Republican party no longer hobbled by toxic effects. of a Trump presidency in place. The GOP can take direct aim at the Biden-Murphy arrangement and tie that climate to local elections across the district. While Kim is generally seen as popular in Evesham, the Republican Party in Burlington has been keen to hold the line and, if possible, win back lost seats wherever they can.
The mentioned Democratic allegations of cronyism with the PILOT deal have their origins in the final days of the Brown administration. In 2018, between Election Day and the swearing-in of the new Democratic leadership, Evesham introduced and passed an ordinance that Democrats decried as a last-minute giveaway to Republican benefactors. The order is 12-31-2018 – “An order for the Township of Evesham authorizing tax abatement and settlement pursuant to the provisions of NJSA 40A: 21-1 et seq., Featuring: Lenore Manor, LLC for the property known as Block 4.10, Lot 5.01.”
The site is on East Main Street, Marlton, a leafy suburban street where the 150′ x 225′ plot in question sits between a restaurant and a church. The municipal government had rolled out a redevelopment plan to identify properties in need of rehabilitation in 2014. The plan for the site is to construct a 23-unit apartment building with space for commercial applications as well.
The problem with the Democrats is that Lenore Manor, LLC, which develops the site and benefits from a five-year plan, is owned by Eleanor McKenna, the mother of realtor Mark McKenna, and John McKenna, a former Republican councilman. The McKennas are close to Brown, sources say, and say the process was rushed by the board. According to Evesham Township minutes, there is no record of any comments being raised by members of the public at meetings regarding the ordinance.
Burlington County listed the property assessed at a land value of $231,200 with an improvement of $186,700 for a net of $417,900 in 2018. The following year the land value was $231,000 with a improvement of $10,000 and a net of $241,000. As the old structure was demolished, there were no improvements, the value of the land (the net) remained at $231,000 in 2020 and 2021.
Brown had touted Evesham’s redevelopment as a great success for the township and defended the use of PILOT programs as a way “to leave the town in a better place.” As the PILOTS rotate, the fully taxed revenue that will come in is higher than it is today,” he told South Jersey Biz at the close of his administration. He dismissed criticism that claimed PILOT programs were used to lure developers.
The agreement with Lenore Manor provides that during the first full tax year no PILOT on Enhanced Value will be due except the base figure “for taxes which will be paid on said ‘figure of base'”. The agreement then establishes the following year, 20% of the taxes due on the agreed value, enhanced. Then 40% the following year, 60% and 80% the fifth year.
If Lenore Manor fails to pay the taxes due or the PILOT payment, the agreement will collapse and the assessment will be complete, due and payable retroactively.
Democrats decry a Republican-crafted deal benefiting Republican-aligned business and political power because cronyism is part of the ongoing struggle that defines the district’s broader races. If Evesham Township turns red again, after being under Democratic control, the loss of the largest municipality of Burlington would be a blow to Congressman Kim’s attempt to return to DC and would also represent a major setback for the Democratic Party in Southern New Jersey at large.
It should be noted that in 2018, Veasy did not win by a landslide victory and while the township had appeared to comfortably reject Trump for Biden, scandal-ridden US Senator Robert Menendez narrowly beat pharmaceutical executive Robert Hugin of 0.85%. For home, Andy Kim beat Tom MacArthur with more leeway, 56.71% to 42.71%. Two years later, Kim was re-elected, defeating David Richter. The Township of Evesham delivered 17,199 votes to the incumbent and 11,656 to his opponent. Wider national atmospheres can have a profound impact on elections, even at the local level, but fundamentally voter turnout is also driven by the boots on the ground. Veasy and his team, however, now have their own record to stand on and contrast with Republicans battling their way back to power. Locally-supported Kim and Healey machines operating in the township can be expected to highlight or spin the ethical considerations of redevelopment strategies based on PILOT, a potentially powerful addition to the toolbox of the campaign as the battle continues into November.
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