By JOHN T. WARD
Two months after approving one of the largest development projects in Red Bank history, the borough planning board has been sued over the decision, redbankgreen has learned.
The suit arrives as the board is defending itself in a lawsuit concerning a proposed Hampton Inn just across the street.
The latest of the two actions was filed on behalf of entities that own the Colony House apartment building on Bodman Place. It targets the board’s December 2 approval of a plan by a unit of Saxum Real Estate for 210 apartments at the corner of Bodman and Riverside Avenue.
Saxum proposed to redevelop the site, at 176 Riverside, demolishing the vacant former VNA headquarters now there.
Attorney Ron Gasiorowski, who frequently represents objectors to development proposals, filed the lawsuit in Monmouth County Superior Court February 4.
In it, the Colony House owners claim that the board should not have had jurisdiction over Saxum’s proposal because it departed from the terms of redevelopment plan for the site that had been adopted by the borough council in December, 2018.
Those departures should have required Saxum to obtain an amended redevelopment plan from the council, Gasiorowski argues, echoing objections he made during the planning board’s hearings.
He also contends the Colony House, which owns a parking lot next door to the Saxum property, would be deprived of its rights granted under the redevelopment plan if the project is allowed to go ahead.
The “core design concept” of the redevelopment plan is that the entire area, which includes the Colony House lot, “be planned and developed as an integrated whole,” not as separate pieces, the lawsuit contends.
The planning board has not formally responded to the lawsuit.
Here’s the Colony House lawsuit: Park Ridge v Red Bank Planning Board 020520
Meantime, board attorney Michael Leckstein has been countering a lawsuit filed last August on behalf of the owners of a former Exxon station across Route 35 from the VNA site.
After seven years of efforts stalled in part by Gasiorowski-led lawsuits, Rbank Capital won board approval in February, 2017, to build a six-story, 76-room Hampton Inn hotel on the site, which overlooks the Navesink River at the foot of Cooper’s Bridge.
But last April, with no construction work having begun, the planning board refused to grant a one-year extension of the approval.
In the Monmouth County lawsuit, filed by attorney Martin Newmark, Rbank attributed its failure to start work on a “frivolous lawsuit.”
The firm was “required to turn its attention away from pursuing” additional permits required by the New Jersey departments of transportation and environmental protection in order to defend the suit, Newmark wrote.
The litigation, which had been filed by Gasiorowski on behalf of an entity called 200 Park Avenue, was withdrawn three months after it was filed.
Still, Rbank did continue to meet and correspond with state officials about the needed permits, Newmark wrote. The firm claims it has spent more than $500,000 in pursuit of permits.
Rbank sued the board in August, calling the unanimous extension denial “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
But in a January 29 court filing, Leckstein wrote that the planning board has done nothing to stop Rbank from building the hotel.
“Absolutely nothing has changed since the granting of [the 2017] approval, on a municipal level, which would prevent the Plaintiff from immediately proceeding with construction,” Leckstein wrote.
Instead, the real issue in Rbank’s lawsuit is whether the firm is entitled to “protection from any future zoning ordinance changes that might be enacted” by the borough council, Leckstein wrote.
There’s been no move by the council to change the zoning of the site, Leckstein wrote.
“Although indications of possible redevelopment plans have been mentioned, none have been enacted by the Borough,” he wrote. “Yet, despite the lack of interference by the town, the subject property remains a perpetual eyesore at one of the primary gateways into the municipality while the Plaintiff persists in appealing a denial from the DEP which that agency has proclaimed is the result of the Plaintiff’s own lack of proper due diligence in having filed a more than deficient application.”
Here’s the Hampton Inn lawsuit: Rbank Capital v Red Bank Planning Board.
And here’s the borough’s most recent filing: Rbank v RBPB borough response 012920