WANAQUE - Work on a planned upscale development with condos and single-family homes has stopped, and neighbors say they are left with an eyesore.
Robert Mann says he gets frustrated every time he looks out his front window. The once pristine view from his Wanaque home is now marred by an abandoned, half-finished development.
"The value of the house has gone down," Mann says. "When realtors come up this way, they bring you up the back road. They don't bring you past that building."
The project was started in 2000 by developer Jacinto Rodrigues. Two years later, construction abruptly stopped. The homes and condos have been sitting half-finished ever since.
Wanaque Mayor Daniel Mahler says the project became bogged down over environmental regulations. Rodrigues ultimately won out and could have finished it, but never did. No one knows why.
Mahler says he is frustrated, but that the town can't force the developer to do anything.
Rodrigues and his development company, Sumo Enterprises, are known for problems in at least three states. He owns part of a shopping center in West Windsor, that the mayor says is an undeveloped eyesore. Rodrigues also bought two properties in Elizabeth 10 years ago, but never developed them
In Pennsylvania, Rodrigues reportedly went to jail for failing to fix a mold problem at a retirement village he developed. In Colorado, he was fined $100,000 over stormwater permit violations.
In each case, town officials say Rodrigues doesn't respond to their calls and he did not respond to News 12 New Jersey's request for an interview.
Mahler says nothing can stop developers from doing what Rodrigues is doing because there is a gap in the law that ties the hands of local governments.
Under New Jersey law, a town does have the power to condemn a property if it falls into disrepair, but it often requires a long, costly court process.