OPRA Request Reveals:
City of Gloucester City and Southport Developer had a Contentious Relationship in Recent Years
William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (November 21, 2021)--Earlier this month we learned that a $10.5 million lawsuit was filed in March 2021 against the City of Gloucester City by Rocco D'Antonio, of Gloucester City Organic Recycling LLC (GCOR) for breach of contract. D'Antonio first arrived in Gloucester City in 2010 with a proposal to build an indoor recycling plant in the Southport acreage specifically on 9 plus acres on what was once the Atlantic Richfield/BP property at the south end of Water Street. It was to be called Organic Diversions. In December of 2010, the City signed a letter of intent with D'Antonio. That was followed by an agreement between the two parties in 2013. The following year 100,000 tons of dirt were dumped on the site to level the ground. That was basically the extent of the construction work completed on that property in the last 11 years.
Compost Plant Developer Files $10.5 Million Lawsuit Against Gloucester City Residents for Breach of Contract
To obtain further information on the lawsuit an OPRA request was submitted to Vanessa Parent, City Custodian of Records and Municipal Clerk. As a result of that petition, we learned the City had accumulated 15,000 documents pertaining to the proposed recycling to compost plant over the past 11 years. Another OPRA request was submitted narrowing down the petition to correspondence between the City and the lawyer representing D'Antonio, plus some other documents.
Besides the City of Gloucester City and GCOR, there are several other names mentioned in the documents received. They are Howard Long Esq., City Solicitor, Jeffrey M. Brennan Esq. (D'Antonio's lawyer) Southport Renewal LLC, (SR) hired by the City to oversee construction, and New Market Development Corp., who held a membership interest in the development.
D'Antonio holds a 25 percent interest in Southport Renewal (SR). The other members of SR are Chuck Feinberg and Adam Zellner. Those two also own New Market Development and recently disavowed their interest in Southport Renewal. See excerpt of their attorney's July 2021 letter below.
The City's paperwork paints a contentious relationship between all parties in recent years that in some ways explains why this matter will end up before a judge. From the documents received we discovered that the Gulf and Western property, also known as NJ Zinc, still belongs to Gulf and Western. For years many residents, including this reporter, thought the City was the owner of the entire 145 acres.
In 2020, according to the emails we received from our OPRA, the war of words between those involved became tempestuous.
The following is an excerpt of the September 22, 2020 letter between the city solicitor and D'Antonio's attorney.
Southport Renewal (SR) original estimates for all of this environmental work was approximately $1 to 3 million, according to the City's countersuit. The city relied on this estimate in undertaking various activities with regard to the overall redevelopment of the area as well as entering contracts and amendments with Plaintiff and SR.
That same document stated,
After a number of years and additional investigation and submissions to various government agencies, the new estimated for the cost of dealing with all of the environmental issues including wetlands mitigation was approximately $10 million.
According to the terms of the redevelopment agreement between SR, the initial funds for payment of the environmental costs on the property, which included the wetlands mitigation were to be provided by various recoveries from the parties due to existing environmental conditions. If those funds were not sufficient, it was the responsibility of SR to provide the funds, which it then could seek to have reimbursed from the City from the income the City generated from sale or lease of properties in the Southport Redevelopment area.
The City's countersuit alleges D'Antonio had unauthorized dealings with Southport Renewal and was responsible for Southport stopping work on remedial measures. "Due to the actions and inactions of Plaintiff, the City has been unable to develop the GCRO property, the SR property, or the surrounding area.
Because of the magnitude of the case, it is doubtful the lawsuit and counter lawsuit will see an actual court date in the immediate future. City Solicitor Howard Long said most likely it will be three to four years before that happens.