Search Site
Menu
Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich Files Suit in Federal Court

October 7, 2008

Property owner files suit againt Millstone, saying boro blocked development attempt

by MICHAEL DEAK
Staff Writer

MILLSTONE -A federal lawsuit filed this week charges the Borough Council and Planning Board with racketeering and violating the civil rights of a borough property owner frustrated with attempts to develop its property.

In a 37-page suit filed Monday, Oct. 6, in U.S. District Court, Trenton, Rezem Family Associates, the owner of 67 acres of property in the tiny borough with a population of about 400, alleges borough officials conspired to block development of its property bisected by Somerset Courthouse Road and Route 514.

Borough Attorney Stephen Offen said yesterday that it is not the borough’s policy to comment on pending litigation. Offen also said he had not reviewed the entire suit.

“This is a really serious lawsuit,” said Stuart Lieberman, attorney for the Rezem Family Associates. The group is a family that formed a partnership to oversee the property.

The property owner has been working with the borough for nearly a decade to reach an agreement on how the land could be developed or preserved for open space, but no solution has been reached, Lieberman said.

“We are alleging that various individuals have violated the federal civil rights and racketeering laws and we are alleging that they have deliberately worked with each other to frustrate my client’s legitimate right to secure development approval for the property,” Lieberman said.

Rezem Family Associates has received several lucrative offers from national corporations for the property, but has been unable to sell it, Lieberman said. Two of the offers were for $20 million and $17 million, according to the lawsuit.

“We simply cannot continue to bump our heads against the wall,” said Tom Hitchcok of Rezem Family Associates.

According to the lawsuit, the property had been zoned for decades as “light industrial” and Rezem Family Associates had no interest in developing the property.

But in 1997 Somerset County constructed the Amwell Road bypass and Somerset Courthouse Road through the property, increasing its value by creating development opportunities.

But, the lawsuit alleges, borough officials “purposefully, and conspiratorially, lied, misled, and otherwise performed specific actions that adversely affected (Rezem Family Associates’) property value.”

The suit outlines the steps that Rezem Family Associates took to develop the property, starting in 1999 with a proposal to build a gas station at the bypass intersection.

In 2002, the suit states, John Madden, then the borough’s planner, presented a map of the property indicating a “planned village development” calling for 250 single-family homes and condominiums, along with a commercial site and 28 acres of open recreation space. Rezem Family Associates supported the plan, but the Millstone Planning Board refused to support a zoning change, according to the lawsuit.

Also in 2002, a “builder’s remedy” lawsuit against the borough was filed by the Van Cleef Family Limited Partnership, alleging Millstone had failed to meet any of its state Council on Affordable Housing obligations. Rezem Family Associates joined Van Cleef in the lawsuit, which still has not been resolved.

From 2002 to 2004, the borough created five separate development plans for the property, but continued to refuse to change the zoning to make the plans feasible, the lawsuit charges.

In 2004, Carter Van Dyke, the new municipal planner, created a new “vision plan” for the property which, the suit alleges, contains “totally false” maps and statements “designed to intentionally devalue the … property.”

The “vision plan” contained five separate concepts for the property and Van Dyke introduced a sixth plan, which allowed for cluster zoning and the construction of retail and residential units. In addition, the sixth plan also anticipated the state Green Acres program would acquire 44 acres of the property for open space.

But, the lawsuit argues, “as of today there is no Green Acres money.”

Three major developers that had contracts with Rezem Family Associates terminated the contracts because Millstone would not change the zoning, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit specifically targets assertions in the “vision plan” that the property has historical significance dating to the Revolutionary War, but no evidence has been presented to support the claim.

The lawsuit also charges the “vision plan” contained an incorrect map that depicted the property as 50 percent wetlands and was “virtually undevelopable.”

At the end of 2004, the borough presented a plan for the property that called for the Green Acres program to buy 44 acres and rezone the remaining 23 acres for residential and retail uses.

Rezem Family Associates agreed to the plan, but the Green Acres program wanted to defer any action until COAH had agreed to remove the property from the borough’s affordable housing program, according to the lawsuit.

In August 2007, Rezem Family Associates agreed to a settlement with the borough that stated if the Green Acres program did not appraise the property and make an offer by December 2007, Rezem Family Associates could withdraw from the settlement.

No appraisal has been conducted, the suit alleges.

In March 2008, the lawsuit states, a member of Rezem Family Associates met with state officials and learned that the Green Acres program had no intention of being the lead buyer of the property, but was only going to contribute a portion of the $4 million purchase price with the remainder coming from Somerset County, the D&R Greenway and the borough.

“The premise on which (Rezem Family Associates) executing the mediation agreement with Millstone was a lie,” the lawsuit charges.

Michael Deak can be reached at 908-707-3134 or [email protected]

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • Unprecedented storms are slamming NJ – learn how to be the best advocate for your clients when the next flood hits.… https://t.co/TicH6iAjP0
    1 day ago
  • Trenton Water Works has removed 25 percent of lead pipes throughout its service area. https://t.co/KUvhMsJlvU
    2 weeks ago
  • Opposition grows to big warehouses in small NJ towns. https://t.co/CMjgYaPMRP
    2 weeks ago
  • Groups plead with Governor Murphy to stop plans for new gas-fired power plant along the Passaic River in Newark. https://t.co/0yODyXEI3C
    2 weeks ago

Recent Blog Posts

Registration for the NJSBA Flood Summit on January 26th

Register Now for NJSBA Flood Summit, January 26 9:00am to 11:30 via Zoom Stuart Lieberman, Esq. of Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich PC will moderate the virtual CLE, which will train advocates on
Read More
Registration for the NJSBA Flood Summit on January 26th

Governor Murphy Blocks Vote on Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for a More Indepth Review of Its Effects on the Environment

On January 13, 2022, Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission was to vote on a contract to build a $180 million back up generating power plant for its sewage treatment facility in
Read More
Governor Murphy Blocks Vote on Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for a More Indepth Review of Its Effects on the Environment

Environmental Insurance Dispute to be Heard in New Jersey courts

On December 30, 2021 the Appellate Division of the Superior Court decided Getty Prop. Corp. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. Getty Properties Corp. (“Getty”) filed an appeal
Read More
Environmental Insurance Dispute to be Heard in New Jersey courts

Governor Murphy’s NJDEP Proposes New Rule to Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s administration proposed a new rule to combat greenhouse gas emissions, just before the start of his second term in office. The New Jersey Department of
Read More
Governor Murphy’s NJDEP Proposes New Rule to Limit Carbon Dioxide Emissions

In The Media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form