MYSTERY HAMPTON INN PLAN OPPONENT ID’D

Lawyer Ron Gasiorowski, left, said the owners of a Tinton Falls hotel have been paying his fees for representing Hampton Inn opponent Stephen Mitchell, right. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

After months of secrecy, the lawyer for the most vocal opponent of a proposed Hampton Inn in Red Bank has identified the moneybags paying for his services.

They’re the operators of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Hope Road in Tinton Falls.

Attorney Ron Gasiorowski ended his cat-and-mouse game over Stephen Mitchell’s backing Thursday night, when he told the borough zoning board that brothers Carey and Doran Tejfal of Tinton Falls Realty Lodging were picking up the tab for his services.

Gasiorowski, who has filed two pending lawsuits against borough boards over the hotel plan and appeared at numerous hearings on Mitchell’s behalf, had previously declined to tell the borough planning board who was paying his fees, citing attorney-client privilege.

But Gasiorowski dropped that objection at a zoning board hearing Thursday night convened specifically to weigh Mitchell’s claim that town officials erred in ruling last year that the planned hotel did not need a height variance.

Though the planning board has been hearing the hotel application since August, the height issue was kicked over to the zoning board in January because only that board can make that determination under the law, said zoning board attorney Kevin Kennedy.

Gasiorowski said he was disclosing the Tejfals’ names because he agreed with Kennedy, who maintained that without the disclosure, there would be a question of whether Mitchell, now in the position of an applicant, would be compliant with a borough ordinance requiring applicants to identify their principals. The law is aimed at having board members recuse themselves for potential conflicts of interest, and Kennedy said they could not comply if they did not know who was paying Mitchell’s fare.

The law is also aimed at identifying “out-of-town competitors” as objectors, because they “would not have standing to be objectors” under the law to bring challenges of the kind Mitchell filed, Kennedy said.

Though the Tejfals would appear to meet the definition of out-of-town competitors, the zoning board went ahead with its hearing after Gasiorowski told Kennedy that, while he has represented other Tejfal entities in other towns and lawsuits, he was not doing so in this case. Mitchell, he said, was his client, and the Tejfals were merely paying the bills.

A press release issued by DoubleTree to announce the October, 2010 opening of the Tinton Falls facility identified Tinton Falls Realty Lodging as a subsidiary of Hotels Unlimited. That family-owned company’s website says it owns 10 Radisson, Holiday and Days inns in Toms River, East Windsor and elsewhere, and identifies the Tejfall brothers as executives.

Mitchell, of Prospect Avenue, has consistently declined to answer reporters’ questions about his relationship to his backers. He maintains the six-story, 72-room hotel, proposed for a triangular lot on the site of a former Exxon Station at the foot of the Route 35 Cooper’s Bridge on the Navesink River, is too large for the location.

During the meat of the hearing, Gasiorowski appeared to elicit an acknowledgement from borough Engineer Christine Ballard that she had, in his words, committed “an honest mistake” by¬† applying the wrong height standard to the hotel property in her initial review of the Hampton plan, a decision that Gasiorowski maintains led planning and zoning director Donna Smith Barr to steer the case to the wrong board.

Though the hotel application is being heard by the planning board, Mitchell maintains it should be before the zoning board, where the criteria for winning variances are stiffer. He has also filed a lawsuit on the question.

The hearing on Mitchell’s challenge was scheduled to resume March 15.

Meantime, the planning board next meets on Monday night, and a resumption of the hotel hearing is on the agenda: RBPB agenda 030512