CHATHAM, NJ - Ashley and Christopher Felice were angry about the way the Chatham Township Committee decided to turn the municipal building into 65 affordable housing units at its Nov. 14 meeting and that displeasure has resulted in a civil lawsuit filed against the township.

The lawsuit was discussed in executive session on Tuesday night before the Chatham Township Committee held a Special Meeting on Affordable Housing and the options available for the township's legal obligation to build 74 units.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, the Chatham Township Committee voted to turn over the municipal building located at 58 Meyersville Rd. to developers for the construction of 65 affordable housing units. The vote led to a public outcry since residents had been kept in the dark about the decision until the night of the vote.

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"We're trying to do what's best for the town," Ashley Felice said when contacted by TAPinto Chatham. "You don't hide it for a year. The committee's response showed me how absurd their decision was. Our entire community felt so desperate. This was our last resort."

The "civil action complaint in lieu of prerogative writs" was filed in Morris County Superior Court. The township must issue a response to the complaint by Feb. 7.

Although their names are the only ones on the complaint against the township, the Felice's said that the civil action represents more than 150 residents who have contributed to the legal fees. Ashley Felice, who is an attorney, sent out an email in December about a possible lawsuit and the response was immediate.

"I wouldn't have continued if the response wasn't what it was," Ashley Felice said. "The response I got was insane. We have more than 150 residents from throughout Chatham Township coming to our house and throwing money at us. The number keeps growing every day. People are angry and they want to fight back and they don't know how. We were under pressure to file because of the 45-day window to challenge the township decision.

"This is a 100 percent grassroots movement. This isn't three or four wealthy residents funding a lawsuit. We won't accept more than $200 from anyone."

Christopher Felice got up to speak at the meeting on Tuesday night and explained that the civil suit was a way to "finally get this process going." See his remarks in the video below.

The Candace lane couple already has received pushback from some residents, but have mainly received positive responses and support for their cause.

"We've already received some backlash," Ashley Felice said. "I expected it and that's fine. The positive support we've received has been much greater than the negative."

Albert Cruz, township attorney, said the suit was "essentially a challenge to this building being used for any affordable housing." He explained his reasons for not commenting further in the video below.

At the meeting, the Chatham Township Committee passed a resolution that authorizes Cruz to file a legal motion, which is due on Jan. 10, to ask for an extension in naming its site or sites for affordable housing. If the motion is granted at the Feb. 14 court hearing, Chatham Township would receive a 120-day extension to June 14

In the meantime, the township is still gathering cost analysis on renovating the municipal building and possibly moving the police department to the 58 Meyersville Rd. building. The committee outlined the focus of its options at its Dec. 19 meeting.

The lawsuit filed on Dec. 26, 2019, and delivered to the municipality on Jan. 3, 2020 can be read below:

HEROLD LAW, P.A.
Robert F. Simon, Esq. (009461992)
25 Independence Boulevard
Warren, New Jersey 07059-6747
(908) 647-1022

Attorneys for Plaintiffs
CHRISTOPHER AND ASHLEY FELICE,
Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF CHATHAM,
Defendant.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY LAW DIVISION: MORRIS COUNTY
DOCKET NO.

CIVIL ACTION COMPLAINT IN LIEU OF PREROGATIVE WRITS

Plaintiffs, Christopher and Ashley Felice, (hereinafter referred to as “Plaintiffs”), by way of Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writs against the Defendant, Township of Chatham (the “Township” or “Defendant”), say:

THE PARTIES

1. Plaintiffs Christopher and Ashley Felice are individuals who reside at 20 Candace Lane, Chatham, New Jersey.
2. Defendant, Township of Chatham, including the Mayor, Township Committee
(“Township Committee”), and other municipal officers, administrative officers, and code enforcement officers, agents and agencies thereof (jointly and severally the “Township” or “Defendant”), is a duly constituted municipal corporation of the State of New Jersey, having offices at 58 Meyersville Road, Chatham, NJ 07928.

NATURE OF ACTION

3. In this action, Plaintiffs challenge any designation of the municipal building and property located at 58 Meyersville Road, Chatham, New Jersey (the “Municipal Building” or the “Property”) as a municipal affordable housing site (“Municipal Affordable Housing Site”) by the Township Committee at its November 14, 2019 Township Committee Meeting (the “November 14th Meeting”).
4. Plaintiffs also challenge any designation of the Property as a Municipal
Affordable Housing Site via the adoption of Resolution 2019-217 (“Resolution 2019-217”) by the Township Committee on December 12, 2019. Attached hereto as Exhibit “A” is a true and correct copy of Resolution 2019-217.
5. The Property was purportedly selected by Defendant as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site pursuant to a settlement agreement (the “Settlement Agreement”) between the Township and Fair Share Housing Center, Inc. (“FSHC”), which set forth the Township’s affordable housing obligations. Attached hereto as Exhibit “B” is a true and correct copy of the Settlement Agreement1 between the Township and FSHC.
6. The Property is not an appropriate Municipal Affordable Housing Site so to
satisfy the Defendant’s obligations under the Settlement Agreement, as the Township failed to take into proper account the current use, location, and layout of the Property, density of the proposed development, pedestrian access and utility issues, and incompatibility with adjacent and neighboring properties.

1 The Settlement Agreement provides that the Township will identify an “appropriate site or sites” for seventy-four affordable family rental units and submit the site or sites for review. See Ex. B, p. 4.

7. Plaintiffs further challenge the Defendant’s determination that the Township’s
municipal complex will no longer be located at 58 Meyersville Road, Chatham, New Jersey, but rather at an undetermined location in Chatham Township.
8. The designation of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and
adoption of Resolution 2019-217 were made without proper notice to the public and were wholly inconsistent with the Ordinance (“Ordinance”) and Master Plan (the “Master Plan”) of the Township of Chatham.
9. The actions of the Township were not designed to effectuate the Ordinance or
Master Plan elements, including its land use element and housing element, and were made without consideration of the general welfare of property owners residing adjacent to or near the Property.
10. As the actions of the Township were accomplished without consideration of the general welfare of the Township, do not advance the health, safety and welfare of the Township’s residents and property owners, are not in the best interest of proper zoning and planning, and were adopted contrary to the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act and the Municipal Land Use Law, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et seq. (the “MLUL”), Plaintiffs seek, inter alia, judgment declaring any determination that the Township’s municipal complex will no longer be located at 58 Meyersville Road, and the selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal
Affordable Housing Site, including via the adoption of Resolution 2019-217, as invalid, void and contrary to law.
11. Upon information and belief, at the November 14th Meeting of the Township
Committee, the Township Committee was scheduled to hear a presentation concerning “Municipal Affordable Housing Site or Sites” from the Township Administrator Robert S. Hoffman. Attached hereto as Exhibit “C” is a true and correct copy of the Township Committee Agenda for the November 14th Meeting (the “Agenda”).
12. No notice was provided to the public that a vote on any designation of the
Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site would occur at the November 14th Meeting.
13. In the presentation, Mr. Hoffman advised that on December 13, 2018, the
Township Committee authorized the Settlement Agreement in which the Township agreed to build seventy-four affordable housing units on municipally owned land. Attached hereto as Exhibit “D” is a true and correct copy of the Township Committee Minutes for the November 14th Meeting (the “Minutes”).
14. Contrary to Mr. Hoffman’s assertions, the Settlement Agreement contains no
language requiring the seventy-four units be built on municipally-owned property.
15. At the November 14th Meeting, the Township Committee advised the public it had considered the pros and cons of risking a builders’ remedy lawsuit and deemed having 100% affordable housing a better option for the Township.
16. The Township Committee advised it considered all municipally owned properties and easements to determine the best location for sixty-five of the seventy-four required affordable units; however no information was provided concerning what other sites were considered and the manner by which any such determination was made.
17. Though the Township Committee voted to designate the Municipal Building as the Municipal Affordable Housing Site at the November 14th Meeting, no ordinance or resolution was introduced or adopted at that time designating the Property for affording housing to comply with the Settlement Agreement.

18. On December 12, 2019, Resolution 2019-217 was adopted by the Township
Committee.
19. Resolution 2019-217 provides that on November 14, 2019, the Township
Administrator presented to the Township Committee the Property as a site for sixty-five low and moderate household family rental units, with another site or sites for an additional nine units to be determined.
20. Resolution 2019-217 provides that the proposal for the Municipal Building as an affordable housing site arises because the building has “outlived its useful life,” not that it is located in an appropriate location for low and moderate affordable housing, or that it fits within the Master Plan of the Township.
21. Resolution 2019-217 further provides that the Township Administrator
determined that a new combined municipal and police building would “result in savings to the Township and its taxpayers...” however, no proper analysis was conducted demonstrating that there would be any cost savings, or why such analysis is relevant to satisfying the Township’s obligations under the Settlement Agreement.
22. No evidence or information was presented by the Township Committee or Mr.
Hoffman to demonstrate that the Municipal Building was the “most viable site” for affordable housing, or that other unidentified sites were “too constrained and too costly” to serve as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site.
23. In considering the selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, the Township Committee relied upon a report commissioned in 2008, over eleven year ago, and determined without proper evidence or analysis that it would be cheaper to build a new municipal complex at an undetermined location than to renovate the existing municipal complex at 58 Meyersville Road.
24. No proper analysis was conducted by Defendant to determine the viability of the selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site or the likelihood that tax credits could be obtained to fund the proposed 100% affordable housing development at the Property.
25. Furthermore, no estimates were provided as to the overall cost of converting the Municipal Building to a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and no information was provided as to its proposed design or developer.
26. No information was provided by Defendant as to how the Property can
purportedly be both a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and the location for the Township’s Senior Center and Recreation Department, which are currently operating at the Municipal Building.
27. No information or evidence was provided by Defendant that any affordable
housing developers are, or would be, interested in developing the Property for 100% affordable housing.
28. Utilizing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site is improper given the size and dimensions of the Property, the loss of open space, and existing environmental constraints at the Property.
29. Without any proper analysis conducted as to the viability or desirability of the
Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, or as to the relocation of the municipal complex from the Property, and without any comprehensive review of same by the Township Planner or the Chatham Township Planning Board, and despite being contrary to the Master Plan, the Township Committee improperly voted on November 14, 2019 and adopted Resolution 2019-217 to designate the Property as a municipal affordable housing site.

COUNT I

(Failure to Provide Adequate Public Notice)

30. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through 30 as if set forth at length herein.
31. The Township failed to provide proper notice under the Open Public Meetings Act prior to voting to select the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and to relocate the municipal offices and services from the Property.
32. There was no adequate notice to the public provided in the Agenda or prior to the adoption of Resolution 2019-217 that the Township Committee would be voting whether to select the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site or whether to relocate municipal services from the Property.
33. As such, the determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are void and of no effect, and are invalid.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendant as follows:
a. declaring that the actions of the Township were ultra vires and were arbitrary,
capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law;
b. voiding the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and finding that Resolution 2019-217 is ultra vires and without effect;
c. preliminarily and permanently enjoining any actions to effectuate the provisions of said selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and Resolution 2019-217; and

d. awarding Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and such other and further
equitable relief as may be just and proper.

COUNT II

(Failure to comply with the Township Ordinance and Master Plan) 34. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through 33
as if set forth at length herein.
35. The use of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site is not
substantially consistent with the Master Plan, including the Land Use Element and Housing Element of the Master Plan, nor designed to effectuate such plan elements.
36. The use of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site is not permitted by the Ordinance, and is inconsistent with the historical use of the Property as the Township’s municipal complex.
37. The Township improperly considered any impacts associated with the Municipal Affordable Housing Site on the adjoining properties and neighborhoods, including but not limited to the location of the development on the property, the size of the structure, and its traffic and visual impacts.
38. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, do not reflect any reasonable consideration of the existing character of the Property and surrounding properties.
39. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, were inappropriately made without adequate or meaningful planning consideration or input by the public.
40. The selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site was made without any study or analysis to confirm that the Township school system is presently able to absorb the number of children expected to be generated by the construction of sixty-five housing units.
41. The Township did not conduct the necessary due diligence in determining that the municipal complex should be relocated from the Property, or that the Property is a suitable site for sixty-five units of low and moderate affordable housing development.
42. The Municipal Affordable Housing Site as contemplated by the Township to be located at the Property is not appropriate, as no study or analysis has been conducted to ascertain the financial implications of relocating the municipal services, buildings and infrastructure at the Property to an unknown location in favor of the development of affordable housing at the Property.
43. The development contemplated by the Township at the Property is not suitable as there is no access to mass transit, public transportation, employment, and shopping for residents of the proposed low and moderate housing.
44. The selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site was not
consistent with the Ordinance or the MLUL, nor was it the subject of meaningful planning consideration in consideration of the terms and goals contained in the Township’s existing Master Plan.
45. The selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site fails to
further the purpose of the Township Master Plan so to adequately preserve the desirability of the community and its neighborhoods by managing the scale of new and expanded development and alterations to their landscapes.

46. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, do not adhere to the Township Master Plan’s goals.
47. There is no Township Master Plan recommendation or statement that is supportive of the determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, or the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site.
48. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, are not consistent with the Township Master Plan’s goal of preserving the existing development plan of the community.
49. The selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site does not advance the health, safety and welfare of the Township’s residents and property owners.
50. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, are not compatible with, and does not further, a legitimate comprehensive plan for the zoning of the Township.
51. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, were not achieved in a manner reasonably or rationally related to legitimate municipal concerns and otherwise conflicts with the purposes of the MLUL.
52. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, do not maintain a relationship of mutual benefit among different land uses, nor does it encourage, protect or continue the unique character of the Township.

53. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and the process by which Resolution 2019-217 was adopted, are contrary to law, including, but not limited to, the provisions and requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act and the MLUL.
54. The determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, the
selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and contrary to law.
55. As such, the determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are void and of no effect, and are invalid.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendant as follows:

a. declaring that the actions of the Township were ultra vires and were arbitrary,
capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law;

b. voiding the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and finding that Resolution 2019-217 is ultra vires and without effect;
c. preliminarily and permanently enjoining any actions to effectuate said
selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and provisions of Resolution 2019-217; and
d. awarding Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and such other and further
equitable relief as may be just and proper.

COUNT III

(Failure to provide a public benefit)

56. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations contained in Paragraphs 1 through 55 as if set forth at length herein.

57. The determined to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, the
selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, fail to bear the requisite reasonable relationship to, and are not substantially connected to, safeguarding the public health, safety, welfare, morals and collective interests of the Township of Chatham and its citizens or neighboring municipalities and their citizens.
58. As such, the determination to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and the selection of the Municipal Building as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are void and of no effect, and are invalid.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendant as follows:
a. declaring that the actions of the Township were ultra vires and were arbitrary,
capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law;
b. voiding the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site
and finding that Resolution 2019-217 is ultra vires and without effect;
c. preliminarily and permanently enjoining any actions to effectuate the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and provisions of Resolution 2019-217; and
d. awarding Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and such other and further
equitable relief as may be just and proper.

COUNT IV

(Failure to make requisite or comprehensive findings)

59. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations contained in Paragraphs 1 through 58 as if set forth at length herein.
60. The haste with which the Township determined to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, selected the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and adopted

Resolution 2019-217, improperly deprived the public and Plaintiffs of any meaningful opportunity to participate in or challenge said determinations made by the Township Committee.
61. The Township Committee failed to make requisite or comprehensive findings of fact sufficient to warrant the relocation of the municipal complex from the Property, or choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, or adoption of Resolution 2019-217.
62. The failure of the individual members of the Township Committee to set forth
adequate findings caused the decision to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and adoption of Resolution 2019-217, to be defective and invalid.
63. The decision to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and adoption of Resolution 2019-217, were arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law, including the MLUL.
64. As such, the decision to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are void and of no effect, and are invalid.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendant as follows:
a. declaring that the actions of the Township were ultra vires and were arbitrary,
capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law;
b. voiding the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site
and finding that Resolution 2019-217 is ultra vires and without effect;
c. preliminarily and permanently enjoining any actions to effectuate the selection
of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and provisions of Resolution 2019-217; and

d. awarding Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and such other and further
equitable relief as may be just and proper.

COUNT V

(Failure to comply with N.J.A.C. 5:93-5.3)

65. Plaintiffs repeat and reallege the allegations contained in Paragraphs 1 through 64 as if set forth at length herein.
66. The selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site is invalid, as a determination has not been made as to whether the Municipal Building is approvable, available, developable and suitable pursuant to N.J.A.C. 5:93-1.3.
67. The site criteria and general requirements for new low and moderate income
projects are similarly set forth in N.J.A.C. 5:93-5.3. These terms are defined as follows: “’Approvable site’ means a site that may be developed for low and moderate income housing in a manner consistent with the rules or regulations of all agencies with jurisdiction over the site. A site may be approvable although not
currently zoned for low and moderate income housing.” “’Available site” means a site with clear title, free of encumbrances which preclude development for low and moderate income housing.” “Suitable site” means a site that is adjacent to compatible land uses, has access to appropriate streets and is consistent with the environmental policies delineated in N.J.A.C. 5:93-4.
“’Developable site’ means a site that has access to appropriate water and sewer
infrastructure, and is consistent with the applicable area-wide water quality
management plan (including the wastewater management plan) or is included in
an amendment to the area-wide water quality management plan submitted to and under review the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).”
68. Under N.J.A.C. 5:93-5.3(b), “[m]unicipalities shall designate sites that are
available, suitable, developable and approvable, as defined in N.J.A.C. 5:93-1.
69. No information has been provided by the Township that a review or analysis has been conducted to determine that the Property meets the criteria above or otherwise was a “suitable site” for the proposed development of the Municipal Building, especially given its location and environmental constraints.
70. Furthermore, no information has been provided by the Township that suggests that the Municipal Building has the necessary and required access to appropriate water and sewer infrastructure, and is consistent with the applicable area-wide water quality management plan (including the wastewater management plan) or is included in an amendment to the area-wide water quality management plan submitted to and under review the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
71. The Township was inappropriate in its proposed placement of affordable housing – let alone sixty-five rental units – within an area that is environmentally constrained and without access to public transportation and other amenities.
72. The decision to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and adoption of Resolution 2019-217, were arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law, including the MLUL.
73. As such, the decision to relocate the municipal complex from the Property, and choosing the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site, and Resolution 2019-217, are void and of no effect, and are invalid.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendant as follows:
a. declaring that the actions of the Township were ultra vires and were arbitrary,
capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law;
b. voiding the selection of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site
and finding that Resolution 2019-217 is ultra vires and without effect;

c. preliminarily and permanently enjoining any actions to effectuate the selection
of the Property as a Municipal Affordable Housing Site and provisions of Resolution 2019-217;
d. awarding Plaintiffs attorneys’ fees, costs of suit and such other and further equitable relief as may be just and proper.

HEROLD LAW, P.A.
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
By: /s/ Robert F. Simon
Robert F. Simon, Esq.

Dated: December 26, 2019