Essex Co. exec. defends plan to develop United Hospital land

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo is sticking up for his plan to redevelop the old United Hospital in Newark.

Last week, a Kane In Your Corner investigation explained how the county spent more than $6.5 million to buy 40 percent of the site back in 1999. But today, the old hospital is a bigger eyesore than ever and the co-owner of the property, Dr. Clyde Pemberton, has sued the county to try to force it to maintain its share. The county, meantime, is trying to get Pemberton's property condemned in hopes of building a new vocational school. DiVincenzo declined to be interviewed for last week's investigation, but has since had a change of heart. In an exclusive interview with Kane In Your Corner, he tells investigative reporter Walt Kane that his plan for a new technical school is "a home run for the community." DiVincenzo says the state has committed to pay 90 percent of the cost of construction, with the remainder coming from selling three existing technical schools.

"Since 1980, they've been trying to consolidate these schools, and now we have an opportunity because of the legislation passed (to) build this, and it's not going to cost (county) taxpayers $1," he says.

DiVincenzo says he told Pemberton almost a decade ago that the county had decided against its original plan to relocate a county psychiatric hospital to its portion of the property, but says Pemberton was unwilling to cooperate with any other project. He says it made no sense for the county to continue to spend money on buildings it would never use, and began working to condemn the property instead.

But Pemberton's attorney says the county's actions severely damaged his client.

"You can't have a responsible party fail to maintain (the property) for 10 years, and actually allow it to be destroyed...and then say, well, the property's no good anymore so let's knock it down," Silberstein says. "Somebody's got to answer for the condition of this property."

Both sides are due back in court for a hearing on Feb. 8.

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