BELMAR, NJ — The bar owners seeking to invalidate Belmar’s settlement with the developer of a stalled riverfront project have withdrawn their lawsuit.
According to court papers filed on behalf of brothers Timothy and Matthew Harmon, the complaint against Belmar and developer Loko Co., LLC, has been dismissed without prejudice and without cost.
Instead, the Harmons, who also have filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against Belmar for preventing them from opening an outdoor bar on that site, will “concentrate their efforts on the damages action in federal court,” said their attorney Roger McLaughlin of Wall. “The Harmons have decided not to sue the redeveloper who has been victimized by Belmar as much as they have been.”
Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty said he was “glad they have dismissed their lawsuit. This is one of several frivolous lawsuits they have filed against the borough of Belmar. They should continue to dismiss the other frivolous lawsuit as well.”
After a three-year delay that has resulted in legal action, the borough reached a settlement agreement in July with Loko that allows for the construction of the project’s second “permanent" phase at 710 River Avenue — specifically the construction of two mixed-use buildings of 10 residential condominiums and first-floor commercial space, which would include a restaurant and bar.
The agreement did not include the first phase of the original project approved in 2014, which called for the construction of a temporary outdoor bar and café that would have been operated by the Harmons from 2015 to 2017. Those plans did not materialize after the Belmar Council rejected the Harmons’ request to have their liquor license transferred from their now-closed 507 Main restaurant across the street to Salt, the proposed tiki-style bar built overlooking the Shark River that still sits empty.
In response, the Harmons filed the now-dismissed lawsuit asking the court to deem the July agreement invalid because it did not permit the use of their liquor license as stipulated in its lease with Loko and to direct the borough to transfer the liquor license to Salt so they could operate the outdoor bar for a three-year period.
In its federal suit filed in April, the Harmons are seeking damages resulting from what they claim is the borough’s deliberate attempt to prevent them from opening Salt. According to the complaint, they claim they were met with myriad setbacks that culminated with the denial of the liquor license transfer in June 2016. These roadblocks included a 14-month police department investigation of a routine liquor license transfer, delays in the issuance of permits, and stop-work orders implemented during the construction process for alleged code violations, they maintain.
Meanwhile, Loko is expected soon to go before the borough’s planning board, seeking approval of its mixed-use project, according to borough officials. Last month, Loko went before the Belmar Council seeking to eliminate the commercial part of the project — and instead convert it to 100 percent residential with the construction of another six condominium units. But in a split decision, the governing body struck down that request, and the original plan is now expected to move forward.
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