Why would anyone want to be mayor? Well, for one, although it’s practically a volunteer job, it’s a job that’s swimming in money. Is that a “conflict of interest” if your business is construction? It’s a great way to make and use connections, and to direct business to those friends and connections. Even if everything is on “the up and up”, just imagine all the free meals and other “amenities”!!
Our former Mayor D 🦊 claims one of his accomplishments is that he “restored Ely Field”.
Seven million dollars is a conservative estimate for “restoration of Ely Field”, based on the numbers of outlays listed in the source articles (below). Where did that money come from?
The Mayor and council relied greatly on the Lambertville “Open Space” tax, approved at first only for acquiring the Buchanan property. But over and over they went “back to the well”; they revised Open Space to cover other purchases. There were referenda, and strangely the magic words “Ely Field” could insure approval of yet another extension to Open Space, the tax that in the Mayor’s own words, “…was supposed to end when the Buchanan property was paid for”. The gift that keeps on giving! The mayor who claims “we kept taxes down” is responsible for the largest ongoing tax increase in Lambertville History. $300,000 a year, by his own estimate in 2008. And with yearly increases in home assessments, the number keeps going up, and at this writing, in 2021 residents are still paying.
And yes, it wasn’t always the city taxpayers who footed the bill. The Mayor knew how to work the system. Sometimes “the State” stepped in with grants and inexpensive loans and/or forgiveness. But where do state funds come from? The money was spent. It doesn’t grow on trees. Not even on ancient, beautiful old trees. Millions of dollars. If you ever wonder why New Jersey taxes are the highest in the country, look at Ely Field. Because for the amount of money that has been poured into it, it should be made of gold.
(Some might claim offset from rateables or other sources of income for the City in this process, to which I say you could just as easily discover hidden and related costs, overruns, delays, and so on to add to my total.)
He sure didn’t do it alone—and what does “restoration” mean in this case? What’s the whole truth? It’s a long and complicated story, one that’s difficult to piece together as a whole. Not unlike a popular movie from the 1970’s, and unfortunately ending like a children’s book. I’ve provided an overview with a timeline and sources.
“Ely Field”— Located on Lambertville’s Main Street, donated to the city by the Closson family, is thought by most to be part of the adjacent Lambertville Public School. It is in fact a separate park, once mostly an open field with volleyball/tennis/basketball courts, in recent decades it has become primarily the realm of Little League Baseball and Pop Warner-type football, which together require fences, dugout, goal posts and other constructions which circumscribe portions of the field.
It’s “preservation” or “restoration”—whatever this is—seems to have a lot more to do with the streets and land surrounding the field, than changes to the field itself. This is a tale of streets torn up, streams redirected into pipes, hillsides condemned, 129 homes built, millions and millions of dollars spent, the City burdened with debt, and one beautiful ancient tree destroyed. In the end, Ely Field was “restored”. Whatever that means. In the process Lambertville Got Way Bigger— “Better” is debatable—and we’re still paying for it.
After three years out of office, waging a guerrilla campaign against his successor in the guise of a largely anonymous “whistle blower” group, Mayor D now wants “another chance”. Really? To do what? Repair the parking lot at Ely Field?
Twenty-seven years of this is enough. No more.
Ely Field Restoration, how did it happen? Taking his cues from the movie “Chinatown” and the true story of Mulholland and the development of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, former Mayor Delvecchio worked for twenty years to develop—which, by his actions, appears to be a synonym with “acquire”—the hillside above Lambertville and to cultivate “Ely Field” below it as his legacy. This, as in the movie, was all accomplished at the expense of others—especially local and state taxpayers.
Drainage – A big chunk of the expense of Ely’s restoration was in fact a long, large, and expensive drainage project. It required the upending of Main Street, the disruptive chopping of trees, modification to sidewalks and widening of Delaware Avenue, all to redirect water via new pipes from the hills above Lambertville and the lowlands behind Ely field and the Lambertville Elementary School, beneath Delaware Avenue, and from there, into the Delaware River.
The project began with some concerns about mismanagement. After a false start with one construction company in 1998, work was halted. The project gained steam with a different company in 2001.
Development – With drainage issues resolved, development became viable, enabling construction of 129 Townhomes on “Lambert’s Hill”. At one point the Mayor expected the high-end homes to contribute 25% to the City’s real estate tax revenue! But gambling relies on chance, and unfortunately, the home developer went bankrupt. The City was saddled with repairs to unfinished roads and sidewalks and legal efforts to recover expenses.
Condemnation – The drainage and Ely Field improvements consisted of many projects over roughly twenty years. In the end, the land above Ely Field was acquired through a “redevelopment” project and condemnation by the City which paid a controversial amount for the properties. The dollar figures accumulated over that time are staggering, roughly $7 Million*.
Almost as staggering, the number of times “improvements to parking at Ely Field” are listed as part of the projects, (long time residents will know that Ely Field parking issues are still a problem.)
“Fiinal” improvements to Ely Field, spearheaded by The Friends of Ely Park, are not listed here, as these occurred into 2019, after Del Vecchio had left office, but details of “the expensive fence” (as some call it), snack shack, improved bathrooms and artwork are available online . Was the skateboard ramp promised at one City meeting ever built? I don’t see that mentioned anywhere.
The Giving Tree – Sadly, I mark the end of the project with the destruction of one of the oldest and largest trees in Lambertville, the two-hundred plus year old London Planetree, which had the misfortune of being located at the Center Field used by the high priority Little League, and was chopped down with neither warning nor ceremony in 2014. Friends of Ely Park created a project to memorialize the tree in woodworking art, calling it “The Giviing Tree”. Ironically the name derives from the title of Shel Silverstein’s book about a boy who continuously, persistently, and selfishly over many years takes everything from the tree, until all that’s left is a stump.
The Truth is Out There
The timeline below is an outline of the events, and may include other activities and projects from the same period. The information is all taken from public sources, which are linked, and may reflect inaccuracies on the part of those sources.
TIMELINE & SOURCES
1992 – Mayor Del Vecchio begins his first term as Mayor of Lambertville. (After living in town for 2 years.)
1997 Jan. – David Delvecchio joins Joseph Jingoli & Son
In “Business Development” at Joseph Jingoli & Son, Inc. “JINGOLI is a nationally ranked contractor / construction manager with 95 years of experience servicing power, industrial, healthcare, gaming and educational clientele.”
1998 – Ely Field/Delaware Avenue Drainage Project (pt. 1) – First Contractor starts and fails in beginning of drainage project, cannot complete a tunnel under Main Street. Work halted.
2001 – Ely Field Improvements, phase 1 to cost approx. $175,000, requires drainage, includes parking improvements.
2001 – 2002 – Ely Field/Delaware Avenue Drainage Project (pt. 2) “Contractor Carbo (sic) https://carbroconstructors.com/leadership/ awarded $4.7 MILLION to complete:
- Delaware Ave. drainage from Ely Field to Delaware river.
- Connaught Hill through the Delaware drain – State funds additional $300,000 to fund drainage.
- Alexander Ave. runoff—Left to be completed: from Phillips Barber tie-in to Delaware Ave. drain.
2004 – Referendum passes for “Open Space” tax, 2 cents for every $100 of assessed value”, for the sole purpose of preserving (acquiring) the Buchanan property behind Ely Field.
February – City begins planning of Redevelopment of Connaught Hill (includes Buchanan properties).
June – $400,000 DEP Grant goes toward $1.4 Million purchase of Buchanan property.
“The city also might be able to reduce the total to be raised by another $250,000. That’s the amount of a loan Green Acres made to the city, originally intended for improvements to Ely Field. The city now has asked permission to shift the money to the open space purchase, Mayor Del Vecchio said.”
In the meantime, Ely Field will not be left bereft of improvements. The city has received a $50,000 Livable Communities Grant from the DEP for the field’s improvements.
The funds could go toward “improved bathrooms, getting more playground equipment, a whole bunch of things,” Mayor Del Vecchio said.”
2007 – July – 16.5 Acre Buchanan property purchased for $1.4 Million, (ONLY $575,000 from local taxpayers using “Open Space tax” after 3 “Green Acres” grants—paid for by state taxpayers et al.)
2008 – City tries to buy 1 lot of 1.082 acres at Jean Street at Music Mountain, referred to as “the McCann property”. (To be payed for by modifying the purpose of the “Open Space tax” in referendum).
“The point is, the last referendum was so specific it pertained only to the Buchanan property,” Mayor Del Vecchio said. “It was supposed to end when the Buchanan property was paid for.” – In other words, the Mayor changed a short-term “Open Space tax” in to a PERMANENT “Open Space Tax”, which residents continue to pay in 2021.
“The city collects about $300,000 a year from a 2-cent open space tax voters approved in 2004 for the purchase of the Buchanan property at $1.4 million.”
Lambertville voters agreed in 2008 to expand the purpose of the tax. The tax remains at 2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, but the voters approved the city’s use of the tax for maintenance of parks and open space as well as the purchase of the 1.082 acres of undeveloped land that is referred to as the McCann property.”
2010 – City plans, purchases North Union half acre lot from Allied Village Square for $200,000 using funds from City’s Open Space tax. (The tax at this time is halved to 1 cent per $100 of assessed property value, at the discretion of Council.) In a survey, residents suggest it be used as a dog park or an open space farm market, the Mayor states his preference of a public Bocci Ball Court. The unfinished site comes to be known as “Cherry Street Park”, used as a pay parking lot by the American Legion(?) during the annual Shad Festival.
2012 – South Franklin Street Drainage Project
Lambertville city council unanimously approved borrowing $795,000 for the South Franklin Street drainage project and for improvements at Ely Field.
“The New Jersey Department of Transportation and the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission are giving the city $170,000 and $248,365 respectively for the projects on a reimbursement basis, according to Mayor David DelVecchio.”
“The bond ordinance council approved Monday will pay for construction and materials for drainage improvements to South Franklin Street, which DelVecchio said would help drainage problems on Main Street. The city will also repair the parking lot at Ely Field and install new light poles and fixtures for the field.”
2004 – 2012 Lambert’s Hill – Conveniently for someone… this hill, formerly owned by the Closson family, could be DEVELOPED because drainage issues which would have made it impossible, have been (or will be) resolved and paid for by state and local taxpayers. Considered a jackpot by Del Vecchio, because the 129 homes “provide the city with 25 percent of its real estate tax revenue”. But then the developer went bankrupt, leaving unfinished roads and sidewalks, and the City had to help BAIL them out. At what cost? Unclear.
In 2012, Del Vecchio reluctantly turned over a “performance bond” check for $147,000 to the Lambert’s Hill homeowner’s association after the development was approved by the city Planning Board. (The photo is worth seeing.)
2013 – City Condemns, pays $750,000 for “McCann tract” , agrees to pay $750,000 for land appraised at $410,000. The “McCann property” now consists of 2 lots for a total of 6.7 acres. Controversy over condemnation, appraisal, agreed price.
City passes ordinance to pay for McCann property. “The ordinance covers $750,000 for the appraised value of the property, plus $15,000 for fees incurred for getting the ordinance ready for the council.”
2014 – Huge London Planetree Felled, over 200 years old, cut down to clear Center Field for Little League Baseball at Ely. To be commemorated as lumber for artists.