Developer Claims Squatter's Rights to Tax-Exempt Township Road

March 16th, 2006

[Editor's Note: At 4:39 p.m. on January 1 and at 12:18 p.m. on January 6, 2018, this story was edited for style, content and accuracy.]

LAKEWOOD – Twin Oaks Drive is headed in a new direction since being moved.

So is Somerset Development LLC, located at 911 County Line Road in Lakewood, adjacent to the township road’s former location.

In November 2004, the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment approved an application by Somerset Managing Partner Ralph Zucker to redevelop the tax-exempt public property without having title to it.

Formerly a T-intersection that ran adjacent to Somerset headquarters, Twin Oaks Drive 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 into and out of The Gardens by Yomah, a residential development formerly owned by Somerset.

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

Township tax assessment records report that since 2002, the tax-exempt public property was dedicated to open space.

In order to convey title of the land to Somerset, members of the local governing body must vote to adopt an ordinance upon second reading.

According to township records, that never happened.

On March 13, Lakewood Mayor Marc (Meir) Lichtenstein responded for comment.

Lichtenstein said he knew nothing about the issue prior to being informed of it by a reporter. Lichtenstein told the reporter he would call back on March 14 once he had familiarized himself with the issue.

He never did.

Zucker acknowledged he was squatting on public land, but like Lichtenstein, indicated he did not intend to take any immediate action about it.

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

Zucker maintained that plans are still underway to build a new headquarters, despite receiving zoning board approval to expand the current one.

He said that Somerset’s new headquarters will consist of two 40,000-square-foot office buildings in Cedarbridge Corporate Park. Zucker said that ground would likely be broken there in the spring.

Somerset would be the first tenant to build in the corporate park.

NJ News & Views asked Zucker if Somerset would apply for a tax abatement on the building extension he was approved to construct on the former location of Twin Oaks Drive.

Tax abatements are permitted under a state-authorized incentive program designed to promote urban renewal.

In the first year of the 5-year program, property owners that receive a tax abatement are exempt from payment of local taxes on the improvement. Each year thereafter, the property owner pays an additional 20 percent of the assessed value of the improvement until reaching maturity at the end of the fifth year of the program.

Property owners that receive a tax abatement on property improvements are not exempt from payment of land taxes – unless they build on public land.

Zucker did not rule out applying for a tax abatement to improve public property.

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