CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Township Committee passed a resolution that could ultimately lead to an "Eminent Domain" expropriation of the Charlie Brown's Restaurant property at its virtual meeting held Thursday evening.

Chatham Township is negotiating with the owners of the Charlie Brown's property to acquire the three acres of land at 522 Southern Boulevard, which the committee has targeted for the site of 62 affordable housing rental units.

"The township will continue its good-faith negotiations," Albert Cruz, township attorney, said. "(the township) will condemn the property, if necessary."

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The resolution authorizes the Chatham Township Planning Board to make a "preliminary investigation" to determine if the Charlie Brown's site qualifies as "an Area in Need of Condemnation Redevelopment."

According to Cruz, the planning board will take into consideration laws governing housing and redevelopment at its July 20 meeting.

At its June 25 meeting, the township committee had announced its plans to purchase Charlie Brown's and designate it as a site for 62 affordable housing units, scrapping its plan for the units on River Road.

Chatham Township Mayor Michael Kelly explains why the committee is adding the word "condemnation" to its resolution

The committee also passed a resolution to authorize the "Solicitation of Requests for Proposals or Requests for Qualifications for the Redeveloper" of the property at 522 Southern Boulevard.

Chatham Township resident Kimberly Flynn and others questioned the move to develop the Charlie Brown's property during public commentary. Residents of Joseph Street, located beyond the parking lot of Charlie Brown's, voiced their concerns about the environmental impact of the affordable housing and possible water runoff that could affect Sunset Lake.

"That concern by the neighborhood is very much on our radar," Kelly said.

In other business, the committee adopted an ordinance that changes the zoning at 344 Hillside Avenue to R-3 Affordable Housing by a 4-1 vote. The zoning change paves the way for a ranch-style Group Home for special needs adults to be built on one of the five subdivided lots.

The Chatham Township Planning board had ruled that it was inconsistent with the Master Plan, but recommended it be adopted by the committee because of improved steep-slope protection and affordable housing goals. Before rezoning the property, the committee voted, 4-1, to pass its reasoning for going against the Master Plan.

Committee member Karen Swartz was the lone "no" vote on both measures related to the zoning of 344 Hillside Ave. Swartz noted that the planning board had previously denied the change in zoning when the developers wanted to subdivide into four lots, but was now approving five lots on the same site.

"It's the height of hypocrisy," Swartz said. 

The committee also voted to file a lawsuit against the Bank of America to recover $72,000 from an old account named the Glenwood Housing Corp. Robert Hoffmann, the township administrator, said that the account had been set up in the 1980s as an affordable housing fund by the Chatham Township administration.

Hoffmann also announced that the township had received a $40,000 grant from the NJ DOT to complete the design for construction of a sidewalk on Lafayette Avenue and Spring Street. The original grant for the sidewalks had been awarded to the township in 2014.

"It's completely ridiculous how long this process is," John Ruschke, the township engineer said. "These are not complicated projects. The process is just insane."

According to Ruschke, the township is awaiting the environmental impact study and the final design plan.