WESTFIELD, NJ — Residents hailed the Planning Board’s December denial of a proposal to subdivide a property of just over half-an-acre on New England Drive, but now the board and the municipality itself are being sued for that denial.
Approving the subdivision would have been a first step toward allowing a developer to tear down a home at the location and built two in its place, something residents of the neighborhood had voiced strong opposition to.
The Planning Board and the town have been named in the state court lawsuit, filed by the owners of 885 New England Drive, who seek the board's denial overturned, claiming it was arbitrary and capricious.
“You cannot deny a conforming subdivision,” said Jim Foerst, the attorney representing property owners Stuart and Charlene Schnitzer. “We didn’t make the rules. The town of Westfield made the rules. The town of Westfield made the map. We operated within the laws of the town.”
The Schnitzers are also seeking attorney fees and court costs and other compensation the court deems equitable, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Elizabeth Feb. 20 claims that the application conformed to the bulk zone requirements and the board ignored that evidence.
Planning Board Chairman Robert Newell declined to comment.
Westfield Town Attorney Tom Jardim declined to comment.
Mayor Shelley Brindle, who sits on the Planning Board, referred a request for comment to the town’s spokeswoman, Kim Forde.
“The town, as a policy, does not comment on ongoing litigation,” Forde said in an email.
The Planning Board had approved the decision by a unanimous vote cast shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 3.
The board cited a provision of the town’s land use law, which stipulates that applications do the following: “Promotes a desirable visual environment, which is harmonious with the character of the existing development and which enhances the character of the surrounding neighborhood and the town as a whole, and avoids adversely affecting the value of adjacent or nearby properties.”
The lawsuit, however, claims that ordinance is illegal because it does not create a legislative design to require consistency, uniformity and predictability in the subdivision approval process.
“The board and/or town knew or should have known that the land use ordinance of the town of Westfield and/or portions thereof was in conflict with New Jersey Municipal Land Use law yet failed to take action to correct such inconsistencies,” the lawsuit states.
Click here to read the full complaint filed in the lawsuit.
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh