BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A judge ruled on behalf of Bridgewater Township Friday regarding a motion from Advance Realty for partial summary judgment to obtain immediate final site plan approval for the grocery store and hotel at the Center of Excellence site in Bridgewater.
According to a notice filed with the court in April by attorney Kevin Coakley, Advance Realty was seeking summary judgment on counts one and three of the complaint based on the township not disputing any of the facts presented to the court in a previous filing.
The Center of Excellence, which was approved for Route 202/206, is actually the former Sanofi Aventis site. As approved in December, it will include 400 rental apartment units, plus retail shops, restaurants, a hotel and a supermarket on a plot of almost 62 acres.
The application for the project, which received pushback from a sizable portion of the public during a series of planning board meetings, was ultimately approved by the planning board in December. Advance Realty then filed a lawsuit at the end of January concerning the planning board not immediately memorializing the resolution for application approval, which had been pulled from the agenda for the board’s Jan. 28 meeting.
Although the resolution was memorialized at the end of February, litigation is ongoing.
On March 11, Advance Realty filed an amended complaint with the court. Count one, according to the document, declares that the planning board failed to act on the application’s request for final site plan approval by 120 days after the completed application was filed, plus an extention, to Dec. 10, 2019.
The second count states that the planning board’s decision to withhold final site plan approval for the hotel and grocery store pending final drawings is unsupported by the record before the board, and is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.
In count three, Advance Realty said there is no requirement by the township’s ordinance for the applicant to provide detailed floor plans for the application, but the applicant did. The plaintiff said they are not required to give further site plans, so, based on that evidence, they are entitled to final site plan approval.
Count four, according to the documents, is requesting judgment against the township planning board for failing to memorialize the resolution within 45 days of the application approval.
The request for partial summary judgment in the case was on counts one and three, seeking automatic approval for the part of the application that requests final site plan approval for the hotel and grocery store. In the filing for the judgment, Coakley indicated that the planning board’s decision to not grant final approval for the two entities conflicts with its initial site plan approvals.
The goal of the lawsuit, according to Bridgewater Township, was to avoid having to submit additional documentation to the planning board or go back for an additional final site plan hearing.
In additional documents filed by Advance Realty Thursday evening, Coakley said it is undisputed that the board’s withholding of final site plan approval for the hotel and grocer did not comply with the board’s statutory obligation to make a timely decision on that portion of the application.
“Its only attempt to justify its unlawful disposition of the application is by misrepresenting the factual record and claiming plaintiff failed to provide information which, in actuality, was provided months before hearings in 2019,” he said in the statement. “The record is clear that in 2018 and January 2019, plaintiff responded to each of the board’s requests for further architectural details and provided testimony along with elevations, material boards, floor plans and renderings to describe the architecture of the hotel and grocer, as well as the architecture of all buildings in the predominantly commercial development for which final site plan approval was sought. The board’s allegations to the contrary are simply erroneous.”
In addition, Coakley said in the statement, the court should rule in its favor because of the board’s lack of authority to mandate more detailed floor plans.
“The board’s brief ‘concedes’ that there exists no township ordinance that allowed the portion of condition 18 that required notice for final site plan applications,” he said.
“The plaintiff has been significantly damaged by the board’s failure to act on the entire portion of the application that sought final site plan approval,” he added. “Plaintiff spent significant time and effort to respond in detail to each of the board’s requests and paid substantial fees for the board’s professionals, as well as its own professionals, so that final site plan approval could be granted for the predominantly commercial development that includes the hotel and grocer.”
On Friday, the court denied Advance Realty’s motion to force the planning the board to issue final site approval, and denied the request to remove language from the planning board’s most recent resolution on the Center of Excellence.
“On behalf of the residents of Bridgewater, I am grateful that Advance Realty’s request to circumvent our municipal land use process did not succeed,” Mayor Matthew Moench said in a statement. “Instead, the court will take the time to review the entire record of the Center of Excellence application before it issues a ruling on the merits of the claim that the planning board acted improperly. I am confident that after such a review, the court will uphold the planning board’s reasonable requirement that the developer come back before the Bridgewater planning board with greater details on the supermarket and hotel before receiving final site plan approval.”
The supermarket and hotel are expected to make up 150,000 square feet out of the 275,000 square feet of non-residential floor area.
“It is essential to the redevelopment of this site and its impact on the community that the planning board has all the information it needs on this significant aspect of the proposed development,” Moench said.
"My administration has been crystal clear that we will advocate on behalf of our residents for a redevelopment plan that is appropriate for our community and that fits within the character of the township we love,” he added. “Whether it is this developer, or any other, we will provide a full, fair opportunity for businesses to grow and expand in Bridgewater. But for those developers, like Advance Realty, who want to impose their will on the township to turn a profit at the expense of the quality of life for our residents, we will be fearless in our defense of the character of our community.”
Information on the next steps of the litigation will be released as it becomes available.
Representatives with Advance Realty did not immediately return a request for comment.