December 21, 2016

Letter From AvalonBay Suggests Potential Lawsuit Over Consultant’s Invoices

Among the topics of a closed session that preceded Monday night’s meeting of Princeton Council was potential litigation by AvalonBay Communities, developer of the rental complex on the former site of Princeton Hospital.

A letter mailed to Princeton’s administrator Marc Dashield by AvalonBay senior vice president Ronald S. Ladell advised Mr. Dashield that the development company wants to be reimbursed the $100,233 paid to consultants from the escrow accounts created by AvalonBay for work during construction. Mr. Ladell claims that invoices from the Whitman company, the environmental consultants hired to oversee the construction, are incomplete.

Mr. Ladell’s letter says he has spoken with the town’s municipal attorney Trishka Cecil and has filed an appeal with the Mercer County Construction Board of Appeals (CBOA) for all of the charges reflected on the Whitman invoices and billed to the two escrow accounts. But he hopes for a resolution С if the accounts be “immediately replenished in the amounts of $84,140 and $16,093. “In accordance with my conversation with Trishka, I have requested that the CBOA defer scheduling the hearing on the appeal in order to allow AvalonBay and Princeton to attempt to resolve this dispute prior to February 1, 2017,” he wrote.

Mr. Dashield said Monday that he could not comment on the situation because it could evolve into potential litigation.

Mr. Ladell wrote that he first contacted Mr. Dashield with his concerns last August. The back-up material he received in response was missing information for several time entries and some reports were unsigned “and therefore it is impossible to even determine which employee allegedly performed the work.”

The letter quotes Mr. Dashield’s justification of the Whitman invoices as saying “it is standard practice to employ outside engineering companies to provide engineering inspection services on large construction projects Й. However, none of the services provided by Whitman and his employees were engineering services and, in fact, some of those same employees are not even licensed engineers.”

He uses documentation by one Whitman employee to illustrate his claims that reports were incomplete. “Rather than detail my objections to every single objection contained in each Field Observation Report, which would take days assuming you actually provided the back-up that was requested and assuming that such material actually exists, it seems more than reasonable to provide a detailed objection to a typical Field Observation Report which is emblematic of all of the time entries,” he wrote.

That report includes observing the removal of asphalt, regrading, a lunch break, and more observation and grading, with billing for eight hours even though it says employee arrived at the site at 9:30 a.m. and left at 3:45 p.m. “Frankly, how can anyone review this very typical Field Observation Report and assert with any credibility that AvalonBay is responsible for payment for such work?” the letter reads.

It continues, “Rather than trying to justify these expenses, after Princeton has unconscionably withdrawn monies from AvalonBay’s escrow account, what should be occurring is an internal review as to how and why any Princeton employee would allow this type of work to continue for years without any appropriate oversight and review knowing that Princeton taxpayers would be on the hook for these unnecessary and inappropriate charges.”

Mr. Ladell suggests that if the town does not agree that AvalonBay’s escrow accounts should be immediately replenished, a meeting should be scheduled “as soon as possible,” attended by him, Ms. Cecil, and at least two members of Council.