New Report Exposes AvalonBay's "Race to the Courthouse" Strategy in New Jersey

Feb 27, 2013, 14:00 ET from SEIU Local 32BJ

PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AvalonBay Communities intends to expand in New Jersey. But the controversial developer's brash and confrontational style dealing with a number of New Jersey municipal officials – and a disposition to run to the courthouse when things don't go the "Avalon Way" – may be rubbing neighbors the wrong way in Princeton, Ocean Township and other towns in the Garden State, according to a new report by 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service workers union in New Jersey.

The new report, AvalonBay: A Bad Neighbor in the Garden State, was released today at the former site of the University Medical Center of Princeton, just days after the developer filed suit over denial of its proposal for the site. The expose examines what many consider an overly aggressive strategy, as the giant REIT continues expanding its operations in the Garden State.

"It is not surprising that AvalonBay is bumping heads with residents and municipal officials in the Garden State," said Kevin Brown, Director of 32BJ SEIU in New Jersey. "AvalonBay's model does not always have the residents' best interest in mind."

As described in the report, AvalonBay has felt the need to run to the courthouse to solve disputes even when municipalities were open to work with the luxury developer. In 2010, a judge ruled that AvalonBay failed to engage in good faith negotiations with Ocean Township after municipal officials agreed to explore an alternative site for development. Ron Ladell, AvalonBay's top executive in New Jersey, argued that negotiations with the township were "futile" but the judge dismissed his argument, implying that the company had merely engaged in a "race to the courthouse."

The study also presents examples of proposed AvalonBay projects rejected by public pressure. In September 2012, hundreds of citizens of Metuchen sent postcards to the town's Parking Authority asking it to select a developer other than AvalonBay for a local mixed-use redevelopment project. The Parking Authority listened to the citizens, selecting Chatham-based Woodmont Properties to develop the project instead of AvalonBay. In 2008, Highland Park residents worried about potential traffic increases and other possible problems helped block a rezoning that AvalonBay needed in order to carry out plans for a development there.

Previously, 32BJ uncovered data revealing nearly 200 serious Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations at the giant REIT's sites over the last 10 years. (OSHA defines a violation as serious "if there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition" about which an employer knew or should have known.)

The 32BJ report was made public in wake of growing attention to documented safety lapses by AvalonBay and its contractors, as well as wage-and-hour and workers' compensation violations by contractors on AvalonBay worksites and a lack of access to affordable health insurance offered to AvalonBay's direct employees. The research also revealed other safety, environmental and wage-and-hour violations at AvalonBay worksites.

As 32BJ also found, as AvalonBay has left a trail of violation of workers' safety laws as the company races to cut time and costs on building projects around the country. AvalonBay and its recurrent contractors and subcontractors have been cited for at least 109 safety violations related to protecting workers from falls. In March 2007 a 28 year old carpenter named Oscar Pintado died when he fell 45 feet from an AvalonBay construction project in Massachusetts. Since that time, other workers have been injured from falls at AvalonBay worksites and federal and state safety agencies have found more than 60 fall protection and related violations on AvalonBay construction projects, including projects in New Jersey.

With 125,000 members in eight states, including more than 9,000 in New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is one of the fastest growing private sector unions in the country.