Search Site
Menu
Read About Stuart Liebermans Galloway Twp

Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A dream deferred in Galloway

By EMILY PREVITI
Staff Writer, 609-272-7221

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – Ralph Pappas can finally move into his dream house.

One might expect him to be thankful or excited. It is, after all, the holiday season, and an artificial tree purchased to celebrate his son’s first Christmas is waiting inside the 2,500-square-foot house.

But that holiday came and went 20 years ago, and the ordeal since then has left Pappas with mixed feelings.

Pappas finished building his house Aug. 13, 1988, the day his son was born, but wasn’t granted a certificate of occupancy until Thursday. The permit was issued as a result of a state Appellate Court ruling Oct. 20, which marked the end of a 17-year fight between Pappas and the state Pinelands Commission.

“This was one of the most difficult things I’ve been through in my entire life,” he said Monday.

The battle hinged on whether pre-approved development damaged or encroached on wetlands on his 20 forested acres off Frankfurt Avenue in the Germania section of Galloway Township.

The Appellate Court decision reversed the commission’s refusal to grant Pappas a waiver that would have allowed a shed, gazebo and tennis courts to remain on the property.

The three-judge panel held that the commission had abused its discretion, mostly due to rampant procedural delays.

Deputy Attorney General Katherine Hunt called the lags “unfortunate,” according to the court record.

The commission does not agree with the ruling, but decided at its last meeting Nov. 14 not to appeal it, spokesman Paul Leakan said.

“The commission tried to work with the applicant over many years to resolve it. We do not feel that the record the court relied on accurately reflected all of (our) actions over the years,” Leakan said.

Leakan declined further comment other than to say the case’s two-decade timeline is unprecedented.

It all started in 1991, five years after state, county and local officials gave Pappas permission to build, according to the written decision.

“I did everything by the book because I didn’t want something like this to happen,” he said.

While he was building the shed, the commission re-examined his property, citing an anonymous tip that he was not in compliance. He was asked to tear down the tennis courts, gazebo and shed and to recreate wetlands to compensate for those the commission said were underneath the structures, according to the decision.

Pappas refused. As other agencies such as the Atlantic County Health Department and the township building department revoked previously issued permits, environmental consultants worked to show Pappas had not harmed the site, nor built within wetlands boundaries, according to the decision.

Pappas submitted those reports in 1993 and heard nothing until the commission sued him in 2001.

The other delay that struck the judges as inexcusable was a three-year span between Pappas filing for a waiver from mitigation in 2003 and the commission’s denial in 2006, according to the decision.

“If there was such a significant incursion on the wetlands … (the Pinelands Commission) could have and should have acted swiftly to compel petition to correct it,” it continued, describing the commission’s actions as cavalier and disingenuous.

The decision also noted that, unlike other agencies, the commission does not adhere to rules that demand decisions in 90 days, unless that entity wants to cede favor to the other party.

Pappas hopes his case sets precedent for people who might not have the resources to engage in a battle such as his.

“If the government says you can’t live in your house, you’re scared skinny,” he said. “Thank God my business did well and I can afford it.”

Pappas, 50, runs Stoneworld Landscape Center, a Egg Harbor Township-based paving company. He said he owns hundreds of acres of property throughout Atlantic County, including a house under construction in Linwood and another in Absecon. Pappas grew up in the Absecon house there and still shares it with his mother and son, a junior business major at Richard Stockton College.

Pappas estimated he has paid $500,000 total for legal fees. He went through eight lawyers before retaining Stuart Lieberman, of Lieberman and Blecher, who won the case.

He estimated he’s also paid more than $350,000 for lawyers, environmental research and property taxes, plus fines and fees for failing to pay taxes in the certificate of occupancy he contended the township withheld.

Why not just bulldoze the ancillary buildings instead of paying so many bills?

“What’s right is right,” he said. “If I’ve done something wrong, prosecute me … or sit me down and tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it. But I didn’t do anything.”

Now Pappas has mixed feelings about the serene plot. Leaves have collected inside a corral intended to enclose a vegetable garden and the wooden wishing well by the inground pool has started to rot.

“It’s like heaven out here to me,” Pappas said. “But if I don’t live here, I don’t care anymore. I used to, but I don’t now – I’m so disgusted by the whole thing.”
E-mail Emily Previti: [email protected]

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • Newark and Camden receive $400K each to clean up contaminated sites. https://t.co/x3V6AZHkOb
    5 days ago
  • Murphy Administration rejects golf course expansion onto Liberty State Park. https://t.co/cy8lGbz1uJ
    2 weeks ago
  • Preservationists score big win in fight to protect Princeton Battlefield. https://t.co/80vdiYX0GQ
    3 weeks ago
  • Glass recycling plant breaks ground on former quarry land in Sussex County. https://t.co/puNFMPIaOe
    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

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

Quick Contact Form