Search Site
12/09/06 Update on the Franklin Township COAH Plan


Group sues Democrats, developer

STAFF WRITER – Home News Tribune

FRANKLIN – The Democratic members of the Township Council and the “former head of a local political party” are accused of colludingwith developer Jack Morris on the affordable housing plan to build 600 homes and a Home Depot on Bennetts Lane in a complaint filed in New Jersey Superior Court.

The complaint accuses the former party head, who is not named in the suit, of holding secret meetings late last year with the Township Council and Morris, violating the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, to persuade the council to approve Morris, a contributor to the party, as the developer for Bennetts Lane.

“I think that I can prove that the council violated the Open Public Meetings Act and therefore this project should be voided,” said Stuart Lieberman of Princeton-based Lieberman & Blecher P.C., who is representing Franklin Residents Against Improper Development, a nonprofit organization against the development. “I believe very strongly that we can prove there was a conflict.”

Louis Rainone, the township’s attorney, said the suit, which is the third amendment to an original lawsuit brought almost a year ago, gives no factual evidence backing the claims.

“The first two amendments were thrown out by a judge, and this one will (be) as well,” Rainone said. “Each time they presented their case, there has been no facts but just rumors, and they are looking for anything they can to get this project to go away.”

The second amended complaint was thrown out two months ago but is under appeal. Lieberman said the third amended complaint, which was filed last week, is beginning the legal process, but it may have to wait for the other appeal to run its course.

“Each time we go to court, the judge throws out only some of our complaint, so we are going forward with the parts that the judge has yet to decline,” said Doris Bennett, a member of FRAID. “We just want people to know that this fight is not over, and this project has not yet been approved.”

The suit claims that on July 1, 2005, the former head of one of the political parties ordered members of the Township Council and Planning Board to act for the benefit of Morris. The party head ordered that two Planning Board members not be reappointed to the board and be blacklisted for not going along with the project, the suit alleges.

One of the council members, who was not named but running for office, was intimidated and pressured to vote in support of Morris to repay a political friend, the suit said.

On Dec. 5, 2005, all but one member of the council attended a meeting at someone’s house, and the business of both the council and Planning Board were discussed, specifically the affordable housing plan, the suit said.

Mayor Brian Levine, a Republican, said he was the one member of the council not at the meeting. Levine is the only Republican in an otherwise all-Democratic council.

“This concerns me a lot that there was a meeting to discuss who would be the beneficiary of a project worth tens of millions of dollars, and it was not in a public forum,” Levine said yesterday, “especially with a person who has given money to their party. It’s bothersome, and it violates the Open Public Meetings Act, and these meetings should have been aired publicly.”

The suit also claims Deputy Mayor Ellen Ritchie, then a councilwoman, met in secret with Morris on Dec. 5, 2005 to discuss the project. Ritchie said yesterday she did meet with Morris, but she did not keep it a secret and was doing so on behalf of the people of Bennetts Lane.

“I was there for them to request the project be lower density and try to work with him for the best thing for the community,” Ritchie said. “There was no secret meeting or anything like that. This group is grasping at straws and frankly this suit has been going on for more than a year. I just wish it would go away.”

Bill Grippo, a former head of the Democratic Party, declined to comment on the suit, saying he is retired from local politics and focusing on his role as a middle school principal.

David Stegon:
(732) 565-7251;
[email protected]

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • Newark and Camden receive $400K each to clean up contaminated sites.
    5 days ago
  • Murphy Administration rejects golf course expansion onto Liberty State Park.
    2 weeks ago
  • Preservationists score big win in fight to protect Princeton Battlefield.
    3 weeks ago
  • Glass recycling plant breaks ground on former quarry land in Sussex County.
    3 weeks ago

Recent Blog Posts

United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, et al. 583 U.S. ____ (2018) Decided January 22, 2018 Since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the definition of “the waters
Read More
United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment concerning the Environment

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, New Jersey voters will be asked to decide on a state constitutional amendment regarding the use of natural resource damages collected by the State in
Read More
New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment  concerning the Environment

Appellate Division Case Demonstrates Importance of Carefully Negotiated Escrow Agreements

Real estate transactions involving commercial and residential properties frequently employ the use of escrow agreements to address potential environmental issues.  This practice is widespread in New Jersey and it permits
Read More
Appellate Division Case Demonstrates Importance of Carefully Negotiated Escrow Agreements

NJDEP Updates Soil Remediation Standards for 19 Contaminants

Effective September 18, 2017, new soil remediation standards govern the cleanup of contaminated sites in New Jersey.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) recently updated remedial standards for
Read More
NJDEP Updates Soil Remediation Standards for 19 Contaminants

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

Quick Contact Form