Paterson Council Rescinds Great Falls Deal

The Herald News
By:  Michael Clancy, Staff
September 27, 2001

PATERSON - After months of sputtering and gasping for breath, the Historic Horizons housing project planned for the Great Falls Historic District is finally dead.

But it took $550,000 of taxpayer money to put the development out of its misery.

In an 8-to-1 vote, the City Council rescinded the contract that designated Regan Development Corp. of Ardsley, N.Y., as the corporation to build a 57-unit, two-family townhouse complex on the former site of Allied Textile Printing, a seven-acre tract adjacent to the Great Falls.

Preservationists and opponents of the much-debated plan celebrated the victory.

"This was a backroom deal that was packaged by the old boy's club and rammed down the public's throats," said David Soo, a member of the Paterson Friends of the Great Falls, which sued to stop the project. "This was the biggest giveaway in Paterson's history. It was done in City Hall without request for proposals or input from the public. Obviously, this sends a message."

At Wednesday night's meeting, some council members expressed concern about the $550,000 settlement- which reimbursed Regan for the costs related to developing the site - but mostly seemed relieved to bring closure to what turned out to be a six-year boondoggle.

"It's not ideal, and it's not perfect," said Councilman Thomas Rooney, explaining why he favored a settlement over litigation. "But we don't have two years or four years to fool around with that property. We have to get it back."

Councilman Aslon Goow cast the only vote against the resolution.

City Corporation Counsel Yolanda Adrianzen advised the council that it would not be able to break the contract without a long and costly legal battle.

Preservationists, who spoke at the meeting, urged the council to try and break the contract with the developers without paying a settlement.

Among other reasons, the city could have broken the contract because the developer still doesn't have Planning Board approval, Soo said. Other preservationists said the council was too quick to surrender the fight.

"I don't believe they are giving the right advice to you," said Charles Ferrer, referring to the city's team of lawyers. "I really think that you should get another attorney from the outside, one that doesn't work with the administration, to look at this."

Some council members said the contract was just poorly written.

"I have seen such a contract written with a developer that had all of the developer's interests in mind," said Councilman Jeffery Jones.

The spokesman for Mayor Martin G. Barnes called the decision "unfortunate" and said that "certain obstructionists in the community and a city council that doesn't do anything" brought death to the project.

"When it's all said and done, we are still left with an undeveloped site that cost our community a great deal of money, so I don't think this is a great accomplishment for anyone," said spokesman Bob Grant. "We still have to make that property a ratable."

The site was the home to both the Colt Gun Mill, where the first repeating firearm was manufactured in 1836, and John Ryle's silk mill, where the first skein of silk was made. The area was destroyed in 1983 by a series of fires and has since become an overgrown campground for the homeless.

Rooney pitched a proposal that envisions the site as a well-maintained park and tourist attraction.

The stage is now set for the city to move forward with plans build something on the site that capitalizes on the tract's historic significance and the beauty of the Great Falls, said Soo.

"For more than 200 years, Paterson has been run for the benefit of a few rich people," said Soo. "Now, we are going to do something for all the people. We have an opportunity to build on our great history and make the city a national destination."