A pair of large-scale, long-stalled development projects near the Red Bank train station cleared legal hurdles yesterday when a state Appellate Division panel ruled that no conflicts of interest had tainted approvals by the borough zoning board, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.
Both cases pitted Bill Meyer, a downtown property owner and gadfly, against developer Metrovation or its principals and the zoning board.
One decision centered on plans for a mixed retail/brew pub/art studio/condo project called MW West Side Lofts on the southeast corner of West Front Street and Bridge Avenue. The project, owned by principals of Metrovation but not the firm itself, would surround the present location of Danny’s Steakhouse.
The other involves the former Anderson Brothers Moving and Storage building at the northwest corner of Bridge Avenue an Monmouth Street, where Metrovation hopes to create 23 condos and two street-level stores.
From the Press, by reporter Larry Higgs:
In both projects, Meyer challenged the potential conflict of interest of two board members at public meetings and then challenged their participation in lawsuits. Judges upheld the participation of both members, which prompted the appeals and have kept both projects on hold.
In the case involving the MW project, Meyer contended that Nicosia should have recused herself from the hearing on the application because her father, former Mayor Benedict Nicosia, had done legal work for the firm of McKenna, Dupont, which in turn had previously done work for Metrovation principal Chris Cole. In fact, firm partner Mike DuPont, then a member of the zoning board (and now a councilman), had recused himself, he said at the time, because he had represented Cole in the purchase of his house.
Meyer cited an earlier lawsuit which he filed in which Superior Court Alexander Lehrer in Freehold ruled that Lauren Nicosia’s participation in a hearing for an unrelated project didn’t warrant overturning approval, despite the fact that the McKenna firm, led by former Mayor Ed McKenna, had once represented the buyer of the property to be developed. That earlier suit concerned the so-called BLT project on Monmouth Street; the McKenna firm’s client was Palatial Homes.
An appeals court panel overturned Lehrer’s decision and sent the BLT matter back to the zoning board, finding that the appearance of conflict between father and daughter”was something more than a fanciful possibility.”
Meyer sought to have the same determination applied to the MW approvals. But in yesterday’s ruling, the appeals panel found that, even though the McKenna firm had represented Cole and various companies related to him, the it had been “nearly two years” since any the firm had done any work for them, putting Lauren Nicosia at greater remove of any conflict.
In the other case, concerning the Anderson building, Meyer had commented, at a zoning board meeting on the issue, that zoning board chairman Tom Williams should recuse himself because he was employed as a mechanic by Irwin Marine, where Cole had bought a boat. Metrovation quickly filed a suit in Chancery court, seeking a declaration that Williams had no conflict; it also sought damages from Meyer. Meyer answered with a suit of his own, claiming that Metrovation had filed an impermissible Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
The chancery court ruled that Williams had no conflict, but left other questions for trial. Yesterday’s ruling, on an appeal by Meyer, upheld that opinion.
The Press reports that Meyer was away on vacation and that his lawyer, Bernard Reilly, didn’t know if Meyer would try to take the case to the state Supreme Court. But Metrovation lawyer James Aaron anticipates that if he does, that effort “will be met with the same result that there will be a rejection of his attempts.”
Still pending is a Meyer complaint that Metrovation tried to quash his right to object.
Here’s the appellate court opinion on the lofts dispute: Download meyer_v_mw_red_bank_llc.pdf
And here’s the one on the Anderson building: Download metrovation_anderson_v_red_bank_zoning.pdf
The MW opinion mistakenly identifies Meyer as a resident of Red Bank. Though he owns 12 Monmouth Street in the borough, he lives in Tinton Falls, a distinction over which Meyer and McKenna had some loud arguments when McKenna was mayor.