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01/18/2007

Failure to comply

By: Purvi Desai
Staff Writer

Judge sends Meirs Road warehouse case back to Planning Board, developer for revamp

UPPER FREEHOLD — The Meirs Road Residents Against Warehousing got just what they wanted after a state Superior Court judge in Monmouth County ruled that neither the Planning Board nor a Freehold-based developer looking to build a warehouse complied with a requirement in the township's Environmental Impact Statement ordinance.

What this means is that the developer has 30 days to resubmit its EIS documents, and the Planning Board has to review the new documents ahead of another court hearing to be held in April. The Meirs Road residents will also have a chance to review the new EIS, ahead of any decision made by the Planning Board. At present, the developer cannot progress with construction.

Josh Levy, an attorney for the Meirs Road residents said Tuesday, "That ordinance states that any supplemental documentation in support of an application is required to be submitted to the board at least 10 days prior to the public hearing." He added that the development firm JAC did not comply with this requirement.

The Meirs Road residents filed suit Dec. 13 in Monmouth County state Superior Court against the Upper Freehold Planning Board and JAC, claiming the company failed to comply with two township ordinances and demanded the Planning Board's approval of a warehouse on Meirs Road be reversed.

The proposed warehouse would have been built on a piece of property that is zoned as a historic district. . The warehouse would be 13,490 square feet, with 750 square feet of office space on the first floor and 4,450 square feet on the second floor. The residents of the neighborhood organization live either adjacent to the warehouse site or across from it.

JAC has not begun construction.

The Planning Board held two hearings on the application by JAC Raw Land Co. on March 9 and April 25 last year. A vote was held on April 25, when the board approved the application, and a resolution of approval was signed on May 23.

"We had a number of claims," Mr. Levy said. "The judge took a look at only one of our claims and agreed that our client (the residents' group) was not afforded the fairness required by the Upper Freehold Township ordinance "

According to the suit, in addition to concerns over the Environment Impact Statement, residents claimed that substantive and procedural violations (including failure to comply with township storm water regulations) occurred throughout the approval process for the preliminary and final site plan evaluation for the warehouse facility.

Last week, Judge Alexander Lehrer looked at just one claim stating that an EIS was not submitted 10 days prior as required, and made a decision.

"That's all he looked at," Mr. Levy said. "So, what the judge did, is he remanded the application back to the board so that our clients can have an opportunity to review the Environmental Impact Statement document and have our experts review the EIS document and have testimony to the board on our findings.

"Our expert reports must go to applicant and the board by Feb 12," he said. "Any rebuttal reports by the applicant must be filed by March 12, one month later. The Planning Board should consider the application in either their last meeting in March or their first meeting in April. The court will hear the outcome of the meetings after that."

Despite the judge's ruling on one issue, Mr. Levy said, the remaining claims may still be contested.

"The rest of our claims are still preserved," he said. "Although we are going to go back to the board, we still could end up back in front of the judge on April 27 with the remaining claims."

Planning Board Attorney Tim Hiskey said the judge has not ruled on the case but rather "sent it back to board to supplement the record." He declined to comment further, saying their office does not usually comment on cases.

Michelle Tullio, the attorney for JAC Raw Land Co., did not return phone calls to The Messenger-Press before its Tuesday deadline. Her associate, Darren Dapas, said Tuesday that he could not provide any information on the case since he was involved only for a limited time on that suit.

Phil Sinicropi, one the Meirs Road residents, said he and his neighbors are "ecstatic."

"Our contention was that Planning Board acted on poor advice from their attorney, (Mr. Armenante), and planner, Mark Remsa," he said. "Their attorney advised they vote that night, even though we requested them to take some time to review the documents presented."

Mr. Sinicropi said the JAC application is "just inappropriate" in a residential area. "I'm not against someone building," he said. "The developer needs to be responsible. This application is irresponsible to the community, and to the environment."

Mr. Sinicropi said the suit filed against the Planning Board and JAC not only dearly cost the Meirs Roads residents, but also the taxpayers of the community. "They had to defend the Planning Board and the attorney," he said.

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