The already bizarre border war between two prominent Rumson families took another unusual turn earlier this week when the judge in the case ruled that “members of the public” will benefit if Citigroup Vice Chairman Pete Dawkins and his wife, Judith, are allowed to tear down the 1,800-square-foot pool house on their Navesink River estate and replace it with a 2,750-square-foot caretaker’s cottage.

“Many members of the public attend charity functions at the property,” Superior Court Judge Alexander Lehrer wrote in his 35-page ruling released Tuesday, according to yesterday’s Asbury Park Press. “They will benefit from the improved visual environment as the proposed design will be compatible with the main house,” Lehrer wrote.

The Press excerpt from Lehrer’s ruling doesn’t say how many “members of the public” are admitted to the Dawkins’ 10.4 acre estate, or under what terms. But to experience the feng shui harmony of the main house and cottage, the public first has to make its way past a security gate at River Road and then travel a long driveway toward the river. No structures on the Dawkins property are visible from the road, even when the trees are bare.

Lehrer also wrote that the Dawkinses neighbors would benefit from the presence of a caretaker because there will be increased security on their property, the Press reports. The newspaper also says, without explanation, that the cottage will reduce the traffic of outside contractors and their equipment to the estate.

The ruling did not sit well with the attorney for Mickey and Diane Gooch, who had sued to overturn a 2005 zoning board ruling in the Dawkins’ favor. They contend the new structure, located a mere 205 feet from their property line, would be a “monstrosity,” the Press reports.

From the Press story:

Douglas J. Katich, the Gooches’ attorney, said Tuesday that his clients will not hesitate to appeal the decision.

“The opinion is fundamentally and seriously flawed,” Katich said. “The judge either ignored clear precedents or he did not understand the precedents that controlled the case and applied the wrong standards.

“And in my opinion, (the decision) demonstrates a wholesale lack of understanding by Judge Lehrer of the legal issues which control this matter.”

Mickey Gooch is the founder and chairman of GFI Inc., a Wall Street firm. His wife, Diane, publishes the Two River Times.

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