Rbank Capital managing partner and would-be Hampton Inn developer Larry Cohen at Monday night’s planning board hearing with an architect’s rendering of the hotel. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A hotel developer’s long and contentious battle to build a 76-room Hampton Inn at Red Bank’s northern gateway grew longer more contentious Monday night.
It also got a bit deja vu-y when, for the second time in the plan’s six-year history, its chief antagonist, lawyer Ron Gasiorowski, returned, claiming once again to represent a client with legal standing to challenge the plan.
Gasiorowski said his client was an entity with a mouthful of a name: CT95-CT107 200 Park Avenue LLC, whose principals, he said, included Cary Tajfel, an owner of the DoubleTree hotel in Tinton Falls.
When Hampton Inn attorney Marty McGann objected, noting that out-of-town competitors do not have legal standing at planning and zoning hearings, Gasiorowski said his client had leased office space in Red Bank.
Pressed on where, Gasiorowski replied “54 Broad Street,” a building in which his own law firm is based.
“Here we go again, Michael,” McGann all but shouted at board attorney Michael Leckstein. “I guess he signed a lease so he could object here.”
“That may be,” said Gasiorowski. “So what?”
McGann reminded Leckstein that for several months during hearings on an earlier iteration of the plan, Gasiorowski for months had represented a resident McGann called a “straw man” — Stephen Mitchell — to object to the hotel before disclosing, in March 2012, that Mitchell’s legal bills were being paid by brothers Carey and Doran Tejfal.
Like Hampton Inn, DoubleTree is a franchise of Hilton International.
Lawsuits filed by Gasiorowski against the borough planning and zoning boards, as well as the borough council, tied the Hampton plan up in litigation for several years. All of the cases were found in the borough’s favor, including an appeals court decision in January of this year that upheld a Superior Court finding that the council hadn’t engaged in spot zoning when it changed the height restrictions for the zone in which the Hampton Inn would be built in 2013.
Gasiorowski’s return Monday night came at the eleventh hour, as McGann was wrapping up testimony on behalf of client Rbank Capital, owned by Larry Cohen of Old Bridge. Leckstein permitted Gasiorowski to question Cohen and Cohen’s planner, Roy DeBoer, over McGann’s objections.
Many of Gasiorowski’s questions to DeBoer concerned November testimony by Cohen’s engineer, who was not present Monday night.
After nearly three and a half hours of testimony, the hearing was postponed until February 6, at which point the composition of the board may be different. Any new board members appointed at the borough government reorganization scheduled for January 1 would have to certify they have read transcripts or listened to full recordings of the two hearings heard this year in order to vote on the plan.
Earlier in the hearing, board member Guy Maratta revived objections he raised last month over a traffic plan that would allow visitors to access the hotel from northbound Route 35 by crossing two lanes of southbound traffic. That’s just too dangerous to permit, Maratta said.
“It’s a safety problem I cannot abide by,” he said.
Other board members, however, said that the decision of whether to allow for a left-turn lane from northbound Route 35 was a matter for the New Jersey Department of Transportation to decide.