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Grapevine: Prieto’s move on statewide paid sick leave not surprising

Last Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) said he plans to act on the statewide paid sick leave bill later this fall. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), had previously been sitting dormant for months.

But Prieto's announcement isn't quite the surprise. It came just a day after paid sick leave advocates took to the city halls of five New Jersey municipalities with pro-legislation petitions seeking to trigger local ballot initiatives on the issue.

And a day earlier, last Monday, East Orange took steps to become the third city in the state, behind Jersey City and Newark, to usher in its own paid sick leave ordinance.

Trenton lawmakers could have acted on the bill months ago but are stepping forward now. One source said that it appears as if state legislators “caught wind” of the noise and thought, “We better do something.”

The source added that bills like these are commonplace during “tough fiscal times,” since they appear to be quality of life-driven rather than financially based.

“For them, they see it as a win-win,” the source said.

Business groups recently spent more than two years working with ban-the-box supporters, working to draft a final bill that, while they still opposed, could tolerate.

But some fear that paid sick leave, as it gains momentum, could run the risk of becoming a “rush job.”

“Why the expediency?” the source said. “Why the rush?”

K. Hovnanian retreats from battle-scarred Fort Monmouth

The state's ambitious plans to redevelop Fort Monmouth was dealt a blow late last month when K. Hovnanian, the Jersey Shore-based homebuilding giant, backed out of its plan to build townhomes on the site of a blighted housing complex.

State officials struck an optimistic tone about interest from other developers, but an industry source said the 1,100-acre property has an underlying issue: Many builders are shying away from proposals because of requirements for prevailing wage — effectively meaning union labor — and a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing.

The property, a former U.S. Army base that closed in 2011, includes sections of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls. The state Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority has notched milestones such as the sale of a 55-acre parcel to CommVault, but the source was critical of the progress of redevelopment.

“Let's face it — Fort Monmouth is one of the best-located sites on the Eastern Seaboard for mixed-use development … and nothing is happening,” the source said.

The source said there never should have been a prevailing wage requirement, which is more commonly found in large commercial projects. And there have been rumblings of lowering the affordable housing requirement from 20 to 10 percent, but the other issue is unlikely to change.

“Is the Senate president, who's running for governor, going to remove the prevailing wage requirement on Fort Monmouth?” the source said, referring to Senate President Steve Sweeney. “Never in a million years.”

Red Bank-based K. Hovnanian had been picked to build 275 townhouses and retail space on the 63-acre site of Howard Commons, a crumbling former Army housing complex on the fort. In announcing its decision to walk away late last month, the builder cited concerns that ground water on the site was higher than anticipated.

FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman told the Asbury Park Press, “We are disappointed that (Hovnanian) has chosen to withdraw; however, we received several strong responses to the initial request for offers to purchase, and expect an equally robust response to the new RFOTP.”

The authority's board is expected to consider issuing a new request for offers at its Aug. 20 meeting, Steadman said told the newspaper.

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