Newark to weigh tax abatement for project backed by local business magnates

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 14, 2015

The property at 274-280 Lafayette Street in Newark's East Ward. A developer owned by members of the city's prominent Seabra family is seeking a 30-year tax abatement to building a market-rate apartment building at the site.

 

NEWARK — The Municipal Council is set to weigh whether to grant a 30-year tax abatement for an apartment building being funded by members of one of the city's most prominent business families.

Monroe Lafayette Urban Renewal LLC, a company registered to Antonio and Albano Seabra, has filed an application for the relief as it plans to turn a vacant four-story building at 274-280 Lafayette Street into a five-story market-rate apartment building.

The proposed 52-unit building would sit directly across Monroe Street from A&J Seabra's Supermarket — which is co-owned by the brothers and represents a bastion of their family's East Ward commercial empire.

Mayor Ras Baraka placed a proposed ordinance that would grant the 30-year abatement and a handful of other development matters on the agenda for a special council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, calling them "time sensitive" and ready for consideration.

City spokeswoman Marjorie Harris acknowledged a request for comment on the proposal, but did not provide any additional statements.

The Seabra family has been among the most visible in the city's Portuguese community for decades, building their name through their supermarket, renowned meat eatery Seabra's Rodizio and seafood restaurant, Seabra's Marisqueira.

Its interests in Newark have grown to include a import and distribution company, Triunfo Foods, along with supermarkets in Florida and Rhode Island. They have also acquired various real estate holdings, including a property set to be developed into a boutique hotel — the first in the city's historic Ironbound District.

A representative at the family's development arm, The Seabra Group, referred questions about the apartment building project to a real estate agent, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Seabras also hold considerable political clout. Patriarch Americo Seabra publicly backed Baraka in last year's mayoral race — considered a key pickup in the heavily Latino East Ward, and another relative, Jonathan Seabra, unsuccessfully challenged longtime incumbent Augusto Amador for the area's seat on the council.

Tax abatements are regularly approved for new residential and commercial projects in Newark and other large cities, sometimes drawing criticism from residents and state legislators. Earlier this year, Assemblyman and rumored 2017 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerville, called a report on Jersey City's tax abatements "crony capitalism at its worst."

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. stressed that the abatements do not typically absolve developers of all tax obligations, as they usually pay a set amount to the city rather than all levies due to Essex County and the local school district. While not universally embraced, however, they can be a key tool to lure sorely needed development to the city.

"As a municipality, we have to incentivize development and growth," Ramos said.

Members of the Seabra family have made contributions to candidates across all corners of Newark's political landscape in recent years, including $1,400 from Antonio Seabra to Baraka and his council slate in early 2014, according to state records.

City officials, however, said that all tax abatements were rigorously vetted by a committee to ensure that they complied with local and state regulations, including the city's 2011 pay-to-play ordinance, which bars the city from contracting with developers who have contributed more than $300 to a campaign within a year of the deal.

Ramos said council members would have ample opportunity to ask questions about the abatement at the meeting on Wednesday before making any decision.

"Obviously you have to evaluate each project individually," he said. "Every tax abatement is different, which is why it's important to review the particulars."

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