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Joe Cavaluzzi is contributing editor of Real Estate New Jersey.

TEANECK, NJ-In the aftermath of a keynote presentation by New Jersey DEP chief Lisa Jackson, an address that included a testy Q&A session, followed by a Town Hall Meeting panel that slammed the state legislature, the program at yesterday’s RealShare New Jersey conference continued to be threaded with an us vs. them theme vis-à-vis real estate and government. The fifth annual event drew more than 600 to the Glenpointe Marriott. RealShare is produced by Real Estate Media, publishers of GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum.

A redevelopment session, “Finding and Following Through on Redevelopment Opportunities,” for example, quickly turned into a discussion of home rule and the prospects and difficulties of regionalizing municipal government. Or, as moderator Kevin Moore, a lawyer at Sills, Cummins, Epstein & Gross put it, “the frustration we often run into are the differences between a town’s redevelopment dream and what redevelopment actually looks like.”

The other panelists, Micky Landis of Boston Properties, Anthony Marchetta of LCOR Inc., Robert Martie of Advance Realty Group, James Driscoll of K. Hovnanian Enterprises and Paul Phillips of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, similarly discussed frustration with municipal governments and their building departments.

“Often when I sit down with mayors, I find their concept of redevelopment has nothing to do with reality,” Marchetta said. “The best thing a community can do is put out an RFQ and sit down with a person that is qualified to come up with a plan based on economic reality.”

But local officials are finding themselves in a political squeeze, said Driscoll. “There is tremendous political pressure on local politicians to lower taxes, but the same constituents pressuring the mayors don’t really want to see change,” he said. Another challenge is the lack of real estate experience of planning board members and local building departments, especially when confronted with a sophisticated mixed-use development plan like a transit village.

Changes at the local level come slowly, and while regionalizing services might provide a more competent approach to dealing with development, several panelists said they doubted the state will get beyond its home rule bent to accomplish efficiencies and economies of shared services. Martie disagreed on that point: “We are on the cusp today of rationalization for a host of reasons–property taxes, high cost of living and jobs that are going somewhere else. Politicians who have run on the promise of lowering taxes are running out of ways to do that.”

And the program concluded with Tom Kean, Jr., Republican candidate for US Senate, and State Sen. Paul Sarlo, representing Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez, delivering campaign addresses that essentially promised to make government work better.

The program also included an “Inside the Real Estate Mind” presentation featuring Emanuel Stern, president/COO of Hartz Mountain Industries. Stern recalled a Sunday morning when he was eight years old, stopping along the side of what is now Meadowlands Parkway with his father, Hartz founder Leonard Stern. “My dad was taking me to work with him as he did on weekends. He looked out at the land and said, ‘remember this’,” Stern recalled during the interview with Real Estate Media’s group managing director Michael G. Desiato.

Today that land is Harmon Cove, a mixed-use development in Secaucus that Hartz has built into an entire submarket and has made the younger Stern the most prominent developer in the Meadowlands. And while he always knew he would someday join the family business, Stern took a circuitous route there, building homes in Queens and the Bronx with Homes for the Homeless and managing New York’s sports stadiums while chief of staff for the city’s parks commissioner. “My office was 20 yards behind home plate in Shea Stadium, and my job was making sure the players had hot water and the parking lots were functioning properly,” Stern recalled.While he enjoyed working in government, the difference in the cultures of the public sector and at his family’s company, “hit me like a ton of bricks. At Hartz, people want to be given the right to be able to make decisions, where in government people want not to make decisions,” Stern said.Today, as Stern continues to look for major development projects–he hopes to break ground for a mixed-use development on 100 acres at the former Ford assembly plant in Edison early next year–he says the most important thing in the state’s future is Lower Manhattan. “A vibrant Lower Manhattan is critical,” he said. “It’s not ‘us’ or ‘them.’ If you don’t have a vibrant Lower Manhattan, the New Jersey waterfront will not continue to develop as it has.”While he enjoys spending time with his family at a cabin he recently bought in northwest Connecticut, it does not appear that Stern plans to make a career change any time soon. “I always expected to join the family business, but I never knew I would enjoy it so much.”

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