Ownership of Former Township Road at Issue

March 16th, 2006

LAKEWOOD - Twin Oaks Drive is headed in a new direction since being moved. So is Somerset Developers LLC, which took possession but not title of the township road's former location.

Somerset Developers, headed by managing partner Ralph Zucker, received approval from the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment in November 2004 to construct an addition to the company's retail and office space. However, the half-acre site is registered with the Lakewood Tax Assessor's Office as tax-exempt public land dedicated to open space.

Twin Oaks Drive, formerly a T-intersection that ran adjacent to Somerset, was relocated to create a 4-way intersection at County Line Road and East End Avenue, where a traffic light was installed to control traffic.

Twin Oaks Drive is an access road connecting The Gardens by Yomah residential development with County Line Road.

After the road was moved, Zucker used the former location as overflow parking for his retail/office building headquarters.

Zucker acknowledged he was squatting on public land, but did not indicate he intended to take any immediate action about it.

"We may have to make an application to the town," he said on March 14.

In order to convey title of the land to Somerset Developers, the committee must vote to adopt an ordinance upon second reading. A reporter for NJ News & Views reviewed township committee meeting minutes in the township clerk's office. None of the meeting ordinances the committee adopted before or after Zucker received zoning board approval to build on public land conveyed title of the property to Somerset.

When contacted on March 13, committeeman Marc (Meir) Lichtenstein, who is this year's mayor, said he knew nothing about the issue prior to being informed of it by a reporter. Lichtenstein said he would call back on March 14 once he had familiarized himself with the issue, but never did.

Zucker said that plans are still underway to build a new headquarters for Somerset Developers that will consist of two 40,000-square-foot office buildings in the town's corporate park on Cedarbridge Road, next to FirstEnergy Park. Zucker said that ground would likely be broken in the spring.

When asked if Somerset Developers would apply for a tax abatement on the building extension the company was constructing on the former location of Twin Oaks Drive, Zucker said he did not rule out the possibility.

Tax abatements are a state-authorized incentive program designed to promote urban renewal through enactment of local ordinance, according to information found on the New Jersey State Web site.

Businesses that obtain a tax abatement do not pay any local tax on the applicable facility in the first year of the 5-year abatement program. However, the business pays taxes on the value of the land and any improvements such as curbing or utilities that are installed.

For every year of five years after that, abatement decreases by 20 percent until maturity at the end of the fifth year.

"When the time comes, we may apply for one," Zucker said.