By JOHN T. WARD
Already the subject of a lawsuit, hearings on a proposed six-story, 72-room hotel at the foot of Cooper Bridge in Red Bank took another turn for the thorny Monday night when the lawyer for an objector acknowledged that a second client was paying his fees, but declined to say who.
Attorney Ron Gasiorowski’s refusal to tell the planning board whether his other client was a potential competitor with the proposed Hampton Inn appeared to set the stage for an eventual showdown, even as testimony by the hotel’s architect and an engineer went ahead.
“I’ve never seen it before,” acting board chairman Dan Mancuso told reporters after the hearing. “I’ve never seen a situation where it was unclear to the board who [a lawyer’s] client really was.”
Gaisiorowski said it doesn’t matter who is paying him to represent Stephen Mitchell, a Prospect Avenue resident who has been the hotel’s most vocal objector. Mitchell sued the board in state court in September, arguing that the hotel application should be decided by the town’s zoning board, not the planning board. That matter is pending.
“Stephen Mitchell is an individual who was opposed to this application before retaining my services,” Gasiorowski told the board. He said the identity of the other client which he would only allow was an “entity,” not an individual was irrelevant and something he was under no obligation to disclose. He also cited attorney-client privilege in keeping the client’s identity under wraps.
Board attorney Michael Leckstein, however, took a different view, as did the two board members who addressed the question, Mancuso and Mayor Pasquale Menna. Leckstein said he had found case law suggesting that the board could compel Gasiorowski “to testify under oath who is funding” his services.
“We have an anonymous entity who is funding an objector, and we don’t know who that is,” Menna said, appearing unsettled.
Lawyer Marty McGann, who represents hotel develop Rbank Capital LLC, argued that the identity of the second client was “germane,” as did Leckstein, because it would influence the board in weighing testimony given by any experts called by Gasiorowski.
McGann raised the question of who was paying his opponent’s fees last month, when Gasiorowski appeared at a hearing with a phalanx of costly experts in planning and other fields.
I just find it peculiar that someone whose own property is not going to be affected would spend that kind of money,” he told redbankgreen, referring to Mitchell.
Discussion of the matter Monday came to an abrupt end, with the suggestion that the issue would be revisited at a later date. After the hearing, Gasiorowski joked to a reporter, “for all you know, it’s a little old lady from across the river who doesn’t want her view ruined.”
Much of the hearing concerned the terms of a series of deed restrictions written by former property owner Exxon Mobil that prohibited, for fifty years, the use of the site for residential, educational, healthcare and other purposes.
The one-acre riverside site was badly contaminated over 70 years of use as a filling station, and is now the subject of groundwater monitoring with results reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection every two years, an engineer for Rbank Capital testified.
The hearing is scheduled to resume November 21.