Paterson Mayor Seeks Deal on Solution for Historic Site

The Herald News
By:  Eileen Markey, Staff
July 27, 2001

PATERSON - Mayor Martin G. Barnes is negotiating a deal that he believes could both convince the developer of a housing site in the Great Falls Historic District to build his houses elsewhere and protect the city from liability if it breaks its contract with the firm, the mayor said Thursday.

"I'm trying to come up with a solution to make everyone happy," he said. "It's going to be something in the middle. I don't know what the heck it will be."

Barnes said he wants to mitigate the potentially negative effects of the City Council's killing a contract with Regan Development Corp.

For several months, the City Council has been talking about breaking its contract with Regan Development Corp., the New York-based company that plans to build two-family houses on the site of the Allied Textile Printing mill in Paterson's Historic District.

Opponents of Historic Horizons, Regan's 52-unit two-family housing development, say it would desecrate and irrevocably alter the historically significant land near the Great Falls.

Councilman Thomas Rooney and others who envision a well-maintained park and tourist haven with the Great Falls as its center advocate scrapping the housing plan and encouraging Regan Development Corp. to the build on vacant lots in the city.

"The original support and enthusiasm for the housing project is gone," said Rooney.

If the council rescinded Regan's designation as the developer for the site, the city could be liable for more than $1 million in expenses the firm has already laid out, Barnes said.

Barnes hopes he can broker a deal in which Regan agrees not to build the houses, he said.

In a closed-door session earlier this week, Barnes and the City Council discussed the Regan contract and what would happen if the city breaks the contract.

It was the first time Barnes showed a willingness to consider an alternative to the project.

Rooney, who initially supported the Historic Horizons project, said the 20-minute meeting was promising.

"It didn't surprise me," Rooney said. "It pleased me, because if we have him with us it will make this whole process so much smother."

Barnes, still a supporter of the mixed-income-housing plan, conceded that many on the council do not want it to be built.

"They are going to do something that will cost the city a huge amount," he said. "I don't agree with their positions, I don't like it. But I also have a responsibility to the city and the people of the city to make sure they are not swamped by the action."

Larry Regan, president of Regan Development Corp., declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

"Silence is golden," he said. "I'm not going to say anything."

Tuesday night's meeting between the mayor and council is a measure of success for historic preservationists in the city who have campaign vociferously against Historic Horizons.

Regan was named as the developer for the ATP site in 1996 but has yet to put a shovel in the earth because the federal, state and local authorities that oversee the historic district have been unable to agree on ground rules for the project.

A lawsuit filed by the Paterson Friends of the Great Falls, a preservationist group, against Regan and the Paterson Planning Board threatens to further delay any construction at the site.