QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT HOTEL LAWSUIT

hampton-inn-siteA borough resident has filed suit to stop a six-story, 72-room hotel from being built on Route 35 at the Cooper Bridge. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Is someone lurking in the shadows of the legal challenge to the proposed Red Bank Hampton Inn?

Marty McGann, the lawyer for the hotel’s developer, Rbank Capital LLC, effectively raised the question Monday night, when he asked whether borough resident Stephen Mitchell, who has filed a state Superior Court lawsuit to derail planning board hearings on the proposal, had ties to another hotel or the lodging industry.

McGann said he had no evidence of such ties, but was entitled to ask, citing legal precedent.

“Obviously, [Mitchell] had a bunch of experts there who cost money,” he told redbankgreen Tuesday, citing the presence of a professional planner at Monday night’s hearing, at which the Hampton Inn was the only case on the agenda. “I just find it peculiar that someone whose own property is not going to be affected would spend that kind of money.”

Mitchell lives on Prospect Avenue, more than a mile from the proposed hotel site on Route 35 at the foot of the Cooper Bridge

Mitchell and his lawyer, Ron Gasiorowski, declined to address the question at the meeting and again Tuesday. Gasiorowski said he would do so at a future planning board hearing. The application, meanwhile, was adjourned until November 7 over legal issues raised by Gasiorowski.

Gasiorowski, whose practice is based on Broad Street, himself has clients in the hotel business who have resisted Hampton Inns coming into their markets.

He recently filed an appeal of a Neptune Township zoning officer’s decision allowing a Hampton Inn to be built on Route 66 there, township planning board administrator Rose Havey tells redbankgreen. In that case, Gasiorowski represented Neptune Lodging Realty LLC, she said. Neptune Lodging owns a Holiday Inn on Route 66, according to property records.

Gasiorowski also appeared before the planning board in Cranbury, in Middlesex County, earlier this month to voice an objection to a proposal for a Hampton Inn there, according to a report in the Cranbury Press. The hotel was approved.

Josette Kratz, a planning board official in Cranbury, said Gasiorowski represented the Riya Group, owner of a Staybridge Suites in town. Gasiorowski, she said, is also the attorney for Riya in a lawsuit the group filed against the township zoning board over its approval of a Hyatt hotel in town. That lawsuit is pending, she said.

Monmouth County property records indicate that Riya, based in Metuchen, is the owner of the Holiday Inn on Route 35 in Hazlet.

redbankgreen called Gasiorowski Tuesday morning to ask whether interests other than Mitchell’s were being represented in his lawsuit against Red Bank, and if anyone else was paying his fees.

“I’m not going to discuss clients,” he said, adding, “there’s nothing devious about this.”

Mitchell referred all questions to Gasiorowski.

“The only thing I can say is that my interests in [the lawsuit] are that I really don’t think the hotel is a good size for that lot” or will be attractive, Mitchell said. “That’s my motive.”

McGann, meanwhile, said he was not aware of Gasiorowski’s opposition to other Hampton Inns when he raised the question about Mitchell.

“I just want an answer, that’s all. Then the board can decide,” he told redbankgreen on Tuesday. “But I think you need to know who you’re dealing with.”