BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The saga of the Center of Excellence continues for township officials.

The Bridgewater Township Council approved a resolution March 30 to hire Michael F. Sullivan, of the Trenton-based architectural, planning and design firm Clarke Caton Hintz, to serve as a special planning consultant to assist in the drafting and review of the redeveloper’s agreement for Bridgewater’s massive Center of Excellence project.

The consulting agreement is for a maximum payout of $30,000.

Sign Up for Bridgewater/Raritan Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Council president Howard Norgalis said the resolution is part of the requirements for the Center of Excellence. The council is to develop a redeveloper’s agreement with Advance Realty, the applicant.

“It’s a highly technical job,” said Norgalis.

He added that former township attorney William Savo had felt it was important to hire Sullivan “to help us through this difficult time.”

Council vice president Filipe Pedroso asked what the deadline is for the agreement. The Feb. 25 planning meeting board had started a 90-day countdown, according to Norgalis.

“We have to get it done,” he said.

The council president also said that it has to be a negotiated agreement. Courts have been closed due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which became widespread in March and has closed municipal departments, along with Bridgewater-Raritan’s 11 school buildings.

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.

Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench said last week that a traffic expert has been hired to help with the Route 202/206 traffic study regarding the Center of Excellence.

“We’ll have to push that back,” said Moench.

It has been pushed back, he said, because fewer vehicles are now out and about on the roads due to the coronavirus pandemic, plus there are orders from Gov. Phil Murphy for New Jersey residents to stay at home as much as possible except to obtain food or medication. The county recently closed all public parks and trails, per executive order from the governor.

Moench also said that hiring an outside planner in Sullivan is “essential” to managing the project, and is not a comment on township planer Scarlett Doyle, but rather “an aside.” He then reiterated how Advance Realty had previously filed litigation papers against the township concerning the Center of Excellence.

“We still need to move forward on the redeveloper’s agreement,” added the mayor.

He also said the goal of moving forward is so as to not burden Bridgewater’s residents.