Thursday, August 31, 2006

from The Democratic Daily:

Residents of New Orleans gathered Monday night for a candlelight vigil with 1600 candles to commemorate those who lost their lives after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly one year ago in New Orleans. Those who gathered to remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina shared “tears and anger at the officials who abandoned tens of thousands to the chaos and whose bureaucratic bungling continues to complicate reconstruction efforts.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

River's Risin'

So it has been raining most of the past few days and nights. As nearby rivers rise and fall, it's good to know you can keep track of flood dangers from the comfort of your computer connection. For real-time half-hourly updates on the status of your favorite neighborhood stream, click here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Up In Smoke

Study calls Jersey a taxing place to call home

From Monday's Ledger:
New Jersey's reputation as a tax hell just got worse.

The $1.9 billion worth of tax increases in the state's new budget represents a 5 percent increase over last year, far outpacing any other state, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislators.

New Jersey now has the highest state sales tax, tied with three other states, at 7 percent. Its cigarette tax now leads in the nation. And, of course, this all comes on top of the nation's highest average property taxes.

It's no wonder people like Donley Kuendel are thinking of leaving.

"The quality of life is going down about as fast as taxes are going up," said Kuendel, 50, of Atlantic Highlands. He and his wife are looking at houses in Delaware, where there is no sales tax, no income tax and property taxes are relatively low.

The National Conference of State Legislatures report found the national trend is toward keeping state tax increases at a minimum, or even cutting them. South Carolina and Texas this year raised taxes a little more than 1 percentage point; five states (Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming) cut taxes by more than a penny on each dollar.
The bulk of New Jersey's tax increase came in the sales tax, which -- after a battle that temporarily shut down state government before lawmakers agreed on the $30.8 billion spending plan -- was raised from 6 percent to 7 percent. That puts New Jersey in a four-way tie with Mississippi, Rhode Island and Tennessee for the highest state sales tax rate. (California charges 7.25 percent, but 1 percent goes to municipalities.)

The new $2.575 per-pack tax on cigarettes puts New Jersey ahead of all other states, although California voters will be asked this fall whether to raise that state's tax to $3.47.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.

-Mary Kay Ash

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bad, Good & ...

from the Housing Blog:

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes and condominiums dropped by 4.1 percent in July from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.33 million. That was the lowest level since January 2004.

The Mortgage Bankers' Association reported another slight easing in mortgage rates, though as Calculated Risk noted, the stats look anemic in light of last year's performance. Still, rates are still tremendously low, and this might encourage shaky buyers to give it a whirl.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Whose Woods?

We found this recent creative contribution on One of Fark's favorite features is it's Photoshop challenge. No clues as to where the background was taken, but it, along with many of the 80+ other variations submitted could conceivably have been inspired by a trip to the Liongate area referenced below.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New Flood Rules Could Anger Builders

From Today's Star Ledger:

Building along the state’s rivers and streams would become significantly more difficult under sweeping new environmental regulations announced today in Trenton. In an effort to reduce flood risks, Gov. Jon Corzine proposed doubling or tripling existing no-development zones on most of the state’s waterways.

The rules would increase buffers on 80 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, to as much as 300 feet in some cases. The other 20 percent, previously dubbed the most pristine, are already protected by 300-foot buffers.

The proposal was welcomed by environmentalists but is sure to anger builders and property owners, who would be unable to build on the property within the buffers and would not necessarily be eligible for any compensation.

Regulations to implement the proposal could be introduced as early as today and could be enacted after a public comment period without legislative approval.

This could have a major effect on some long delayed developments such as these.

Monday, August 21, 2006

You Blew

What do you do if your house has been on the market for several months with no serious offers? Suppose the office manager refuses to do more open houses until the price comes down to his predetermined level? You can try going over his head to a corporate exec., Or maybe The Broker? How about the CEO?
Jake Freivald considered all his options before asking to be let out of the listing agreement for his West Orange home. Rather that hiring a lawyer, Freivold and family have taken their case to the court of public opinion with an website that has attracted national attention as a detailed case study of how home marketing and customer service can go astray.
He's included his own active forum for comments, but The Northern NJ Real Estate Bubble has picked up the story with an even more intense discussion of the ethical issues involved.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rates Slip for Fourth Straight Week

Freddie Mac released the results of its latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS) in which the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 6.52 percent with an average 0.3 point for the week ending August 17, 2006, down from last week's average of 6.55 percent. By contrast the 30-year FRM averaged 6.80 percent four weeks ago. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 5.80 percent.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bites for Heights

Inspired by the late Johnny Cochran's success with OJ, Rick Bishop(AICP), a California planner, has some poetic suggestions at for his colleagues when they testify in public: The idea is to come up with a short sound bite that gets repeated:

"Have a City Council that is sprawl-oriented? Hey, 'It's no offense to approve something dense.' Conversely, is the Council approving too many units? Try 'Stop the propensity for an intensity of density.'

Having trouble getting a planning commission to understand the complex nature of granting a height variance? Try "If it doesn't reduce sight, the new height is alright.' "
Since most local officials will not bother reading their stacks of paperwork, the bottom line should be a rhyme.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tea Party at Town Hall

(top photo: construction of Newark sewer system c.1880)
From Sewer taxes to WayFaring Signs, Montclair taxpayers feel too much of their tax dollars are going down the drain. Tonight they have planned to announce g their own tax revolt at their Town Council meeting.
Overseen by the Montclair Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), the estimated $500,000 to $750,000 sign project will be funded through a several-year period.

After designing her own protest signs, community activist Pegi Adams continues to plead her case on both Baristanetnj and The Watercooler:

"On July 24, 2006, I attended the town council meeting during which the municipal government authorized the execution of an agreement with Cloud Gehshan Associates for the design of the program. However, the resolution does not include either a dollar amount or a recipient of the amount. Does this mean the council is making an agreement with no dollar amount?

When I called town offices this morning, neither the town purchasing department nor the clerk's office knew if the contract had been "fully executed", nor did they know what department would be in charge of executing it. makes you wonder who knows what down there, doesn't it? "

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Condos Converting Back to Apartments

From Forbes:
Condos Cool Off, Apartments Heat Up

"Home ownership has been relatively strong, but we're seeing the downturn now," says Celia Chen, director of housing research at "We've seen strong demand for housing that was only partly supported by underlying factors.
The rental market is in the sweet spot, says Michael Cohen, research strategist at Boston-based Property & Portfolio Research, an independent real estate research and advisory firm. "Vacancies are at 5.8% across the 54 major markets that we cover," he says. "That's the lowest they've been since the third quarter of 2001."
Cohen believes that trend will start to reverse as sales slow, which will in turn lead to converters returning units they had expected to sell as condos back to the rental market. High land prices, which in many markets have precluded construction of just about any property type other than condos, will also start to ease and facilitate rental development.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Green Grow the High Rises

"They are not yet as ubiquitous as the Toyota Prius, the hybrid car popular among the ecologically minded, but “green” apartment buildings have begun popping up around Manhattan."
Continue reading in Sunday's NY Times:

Friday, August 11, 2006

NJ Leads Way to Saving Energy

The New Jersey Clean Energy Program™ puts the power to control energy and save money right where it should be – in your hands. Here are some ways you can do it:

Rebates on energy-efficient room air conditioners and central air conditioners/heat pumps that will keep you cool this summer.

A simple online energy audit of your home that enables you to find ways to cut your energy usage every month and save.

Rebates on solar energy systems so you can generate your own electricity - making you more self-reliant.

Direct installation of energy-efficient measures and more for income-eligible households.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rethinking Land Use Policies

OUT: New Single-family homes.
IN: More two-family zones and garage apartments.
Our Land-Use braintrust is thinking out of the box.

From todays NY Times:

It also said that states and towns should move away from their traditional use of property tax revenues to finance public education — a practice that has encouraged many towns to exclude certain types of lower-cost housing, like apartments, and certain groups, like lower-income families, thought to consume more in school costs than they pay in taxes.

“We don’t have the land for development, we don’t have the highway capacity for suburban development, and issues of congestion and the loss of open space are becoming more important to people in suburban communities,” said Christopher Jones, vice president for research at the Regional Plan Association. “We really do need a different approach if we’re going to provide the housing for what’s estimated to be three to four million people over the next 25 years.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Linden May be Model for Clean Energy Farm

From the center of one of the most pollution prone areas of NJ may come a fossil fuel free energy center:

From today's Star Ledger:
City officials are considering developing its former landfill as one of New Jersey's first energy farms, where windmills, solar panels and methane gas would generate electricity.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pod Pad

The original idea was to accomodate music festival lovers who don’t like camping. You can leave the waterlogged camping to the students and rest up in relative luxury after a hard day’s partying in a Travelodge ‘Travelpod.’ Made from clear poly-carbonate glass, these mobile hotel rooms are 18 feet long, 7 feet wide and 8 feet high and comes complete with a double bed, bedside tables, lights, duvet, pillows, a dressing table, mirror, chair and toilet.
The Travelpod is still at trial stage, though Travelodge officials expect to charge a very budget price of $50 per night.
We can also imagine a potential market for backyard guest rooms.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Property Tax Increases Far Outpace Income Growth in Metro NY Region

It may not surprise many, but the NY Times latest study of property tax increases in the area really brings it home.

Property taxes grew two to three times faster than personal income from 2000 to 2004 in the suburbs surrounding New York City, a sharp reversal from the 1990’s,

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Butterfly Type

This is one of our favorite new interactive websites. These are all letters made from closeups of butterfly wings photographed by one of the world's leading nature photographers, Kjell Sandved. It took him 24 years to complete this project--without harming the butterflies. Anyone can send e-cards for free(click on the title), but you will be encouraged to by photographs and posters as well.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Too Darn Hot

Whether you agree or disagree with Al Gore's case for Global Warming, Thursday's free webcast will offer a unique opportunity to discuss and debate the issue.
Be Our Guest For An Exclusive Webcast On Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth
> Date: Thursday, August 3rd
> Time: 7:00PM - 8:00PM EST
Ellis College would like to invite you to attend a
 FREE, exclusive webcast on Al Gore's controversial
 and topical film, An Inconvenient Truth. Led by
award-winning faculty professor, noted-author and a
 member of the Indiana Academy of Sciences, Josh
 Dobkins, this webcast will provide a unique view of
 this highly debated topic and an exciting open forum
 for discussing, analyzing and debating the
conclusions brought forth in the film. You are
 encouraged to view the film prior to the webcast. Don't miss your oportunity to be a part of this
 thought-provoking event. Register today!
 How To Register- Register for your FREE Ellis College guest pass
 by clicking on the Free Guest Pass links on the Ellis College Homepage at
 - Click the GO box on the appropriate webcast to
 begin the transmission. 
 We Hope To Welcome You As A Member Of Our Online
 CommunityQuestions? 800-405-5844
Here are a few faq's on Global Warming courtesy The Union of Concerned Scientists: