BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Council president, and mayor-elect, Matthew Moench has filed an emergency application to the court against the Bridgewater Township Planning Board to seek to prevent them from having special meetings to hear the application for the Center of Excellence.
Moench's attorney filed the application to the court Thursday afternoon.
In October, Moench said, the planning board planned two back-to-back meetings to hear the Center of Excellence application.
"Ultimately, they failed to properly notice the second meeting and it was canceled," he said.
Then, the planning board heard the application again on Nov. 12, and announced they are having a special meeting Nov. 18 to continue the hearing with a traffic engineer.
"The argument I filed with the court is that they shouldn't be allowed to be filing special meetings on short notice to get this done," Moench said.
Moench said the statute for announcing meetings is 10 days, although that usually applies to initial hearings for applications, not ones that are in process.
"But I believe it should apply in general to applications," he said. "Any planning board shouldn't be allowed to fast track an application by having meetings every few days. It deprives the public of gathering information to attend."
Moench said he is asking the court to stop the planning board from meeting on Monday, and to further say they should not be able to have anymore special meetings on the application.
"I didn't ask anything about regular meetings that are already scheduled, but they shouldn't be able to use special meetings to ram this application through the end of the year," he said.
Moench said the planning board is clearly willing to hold a number of special meetings before the end of the year, as they have also discussed having one during the week of Thanksgiving. After the Nov. 12 meeting, the next regularly scheduled one is set for Dec. 10.
The court documents detail the timeline of the application, including the fact that the last time it was heard was Nov. 27, 2018, before returning to the planning board in September 2019, with the break falling in line with the primary election campaign, documents said. The document also notes the details of the contested primary election between Moench and Mayor Dan Hayes, as well as the results of both the primaries and the general election Nov. 5, when Moench was elected mayor.
"We wanted to make sure the judge had the full context of the history here, which is certainly indicative of the appearance that this stopped during the campaign, and is now in a race to be done before Mayor Hayes leaves office," Moench said. "I think that development is probably the biggest issue in town, and a primary focus and concern of residents both in the primary and the general elections."
Right now, Moench said, his application is pending in front of the court, ready for review by a judge.
"Presumably, he will schedule a hearing," he said. "It could be Friday, or Monday morning to decide whether to enjoin the planning board from meeting on Monday."
"Theoretically, it's possible that they don't do anything and the court denies the application," he added. "The expectation would be that the judge would review this, set a hearing schedule and at least make a decision on the meeting Monday."
Moench said he did not file the application as mayor-elect or council president, and was not authorized to do this on behalf of the council, but moved forward on his own on behalf of himself, as a member of the public.
"It's unfortunate that the planning board is insisting on using special meetings to keep this application, which is unfair to the public who would like to attend," he said.
Moench said that a special meeting held last year for the application was actually scheduled weeks in advance, rather than just days.
"It's not that they can't have special meetings," he said. "It's one thing to say we're going to have one in a few weeks, but to have them back to back is an issue."
"I believe the judge should enjoin them and let the application finish its natural course," he added, "on a regular schedule like every other application."
According to the court documents, Moench sent letters to the planning board prior to the initially scheduled special meeting in October, as well as Nov. 13 regarding the upcoming Nov. 18 special meeting. He said in the letters that neither instance allows the public enough time to prepare for the next meeting.
Even he, Moench said, would be unable to attend the special meeting Nov. 18 because of previously made plans to be out of town, and he is concerned that he would be missing testimony from the traffic engineer. He said if he had had much more notice of the meeting, he could have changed his plans.
Moench said his actions through the court now are merely focused on the process of the meetings, not the merits of the application itself.
"I am most interested in making sure that the residents and applicant all receive a fair process, and that can restore faith in the planning board, which I don't believe residents currently have," he said. "There is an appearance that this is being done to fast track the application, and that helps to undermine the residents' faith that there is a fair process occurring."