By Christina Johnson
HOLMDEL – During a meeting of the governing body Tuesday, Mayor Thomas Critelli read aloud a statement denying allegations he has a conflict of interest concerning a property formerly owned by his development company. That property is currently included in the township’s plan to satisfy its affordable housing obligation.
In Dec. 2015, court records show that Danitom Development, Inc., a company co-owned by Critelli and associate Mike Guerra, signed a purchase agreement for a Holmdel property located on North Beers Street near Bayshore Medical Center.
That purchase agreement – not be confused with a binding bill of sale – allowed Critelli the flexibility to assign all of the rights, duties, benefits and obligations of the property under that contract to another company in Dec. 2016.
That company is Hackensack Investment LLC, an organization owned by his associate, Guerra, says Lea Shave, a resident who is running for Township Committee as an independent.
“You bought the property in 2015, and sold it in 2016, that’s an entire year you had that property and were possibly involved in COAH discussions as a committee member,” Shave added, referring to affordable housing obligation planning. “I don’t see that as a rookie mistake. I see that as someone who was possibly taking advantage of development. I think this is a symptom of a lack of transparency and entitlement adopted by our Township Committee.”
Shave initiated these allegations against Critelli last week, when she posted photos of public court documents on her Facebook page ElectLeaShave.
At the public meeting, Critelli refuted the claim, stating that after Danitom entered the purchase agreement, “I realized as a member of the Township Committee it was better for me to not own investment property in Holmdel to avoid any potential conflict of interest.”
By completing the divestiture in 2016, Critelli said he eliminated himself from having any potential conflict of interest in the property and “extinguished any conflict that could have arisen from having an interest in the property moving forward.”
In 2017 the Township Committee took two actions relating to COAH, including a vote on a proposed affordable housing settlement agreement and zoning pertaining to affordable housing.
Critelli noted that he did not take part in any of those votes and said, “Had I been at the voting meetings I would have placed a recusal on the record out of abundance of caution.”
Resident Barbara Singer, a Democrat who is running for Township Committee, said she has no problem with members of the Township Committee conducting business in town or investing in property, “but there is a right way and wrong way to conduct that business.”
“There are numerous statements on file about the political gains going on in Holmdel that have not only delayed the finalization of an affordable housing agreement, but have interfered in the ongoing business of others who have tried to seek investments in Holmdel,” Singer added. “I appreciate that you recused yourself from votes regarding COAH, but there have been discussions going on for years that you have been a party to while you were indeed the person on that purchase contract.”
Critelli said the only reason an issue has been raised is because in 2017, after the Township Committee approved an affordable housing settlement and that agreement proceeded to litigation, another developer interested in COAH-related properties in Holmdel voiced concerns about the mayor’s past involvement with the North Beers Street parcel.
“At the time it went to court a developer raised a concern in a public court filing, which was recently publicized by one of my political opponents. This is not news,” Critelli said.
Critelli said that in response to the developer’s concerns he filed a sworn statement under penalty of perjury explaining his 2016 divestiture and certified that neither himself, his immediate family, nor any business he is associated with had any financial interest or stake in the property.
Township Administrator Donna M. Vieiro said an update on the status of Holmdel’s COAH litigation is expected to be made public during an upcoming meeting of the governing body in October or November.
This article was first published in the Oct. 11-18, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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