Chatham Township's fairness hearing on its plan to meet its third round affordable housing obligation went before Superior Court Judge Michael C. Gaus without any ruling being made on Thursday afternoon.
The virtual courtroom hearing had as many as 53 participants and lasted nearly four hours as Judge Gaus pushed for completion of testimony and questions involving Chatham Township planner Frank Banisch and court Special Master Brian Slaugh, with only one five-minute break in between.
The hearing ended around 5:25 p.m. and will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, also through Zoom conferencing.
Chatham Township is working toward court approval of its litigated agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, which was originally reached on Dec. 13, 2018. But there have been a number of amendments since then, mainly concerning the site for 62 affordable housing units on 100 percent municipally owned land.
After nixing plans to build the rental housing at the municipal building and then at a site on River Road, the township shifted to 522 Southern Boulevard, the property with now-closed Charlie Brown's restaurant in Chatham Township.
Attorneys for the Kronos Holdings LLC, the owner of the Charlie Brown's property, and the Silverman Group, which said it is contracted to buy the same property, participated in the interest of their clients.
Silverman Group lawyer Derek Orth said that the Silverman Group is the "contract purchaser of two sites" in Chatham Township.
Judge Gaus kept the questioning from the lawyers on the subject of the fairness hearing, sustaining objections of questions from Kronos Holdings lawyer Thomas Prol and Orth. Both counsels tried to ask questions about the steps being taken to acquire the Charlie Brown's property through Eminent Domain.
At its Sept. 11 Chatham Township Committee meeting, Mayor Michael Kelly insisted that the township intended to pay full market value for the property
Prol asked Banisch the date in which 522 Southern Boulevard was chosen as the site for the 62 affordable housing rental units. Banisch did not know the date, but Judge Gaus agreed with the objection that the questioning was going "far afield" and that Prol's inquiries were best set aside for a "condemnation" hearing.
Prol said it was a "cart before the horse" situation since Chatham Township amended its affordable housing plan to include possible condemnation of the property at 522 Southern Boulevard on Sept. 23 and that Banisch presented his Preliminary Investigation Report for Designation of a Condemnation Area in Need of Redevelopment on Sept. 29.
Chatham Township has not yet selected a developer for the project and township attorney Albert E. Cruz said that proposals from developers were being received (today) on the same day of the compliance hearing.
Orth asked if Slaugh could tell him "what it would cost to construct a 62-unit, 100 percent affordable project inclusive of acquisition and construction costs" and Slaugh answered "no".
Orth questioned Slaugh about how realistic the development potential of the property in question was and tried to inject his estimation of a $20 million cost. But Fair Share Housing Center Attorney Bassam Gergi objected to his line of questioning.
"The objection is sustained, I'm satisfied that this hearing's focus is on the fairness of the agreement, the mechanisms for implementing it are what we get into at the final compliance hearing," Judge Gaus said.
Orth also asked Slaugh: "Are you aware the Silverman Group has a contract to purchase the property?", but no answer was allowed by Judge Gaus.
Chatham Township residents, Gennady Uzkiy, Kimberly Flynn and Francine Leff - all from the Sunset Lake area that is adjacent to the back of the Charlie Brown's property - got a chance to ask questions of the witnesses.
Uzkiy asked about putting such a structure in a "high density" area of the shopping center and noted that there is no public transportation line in the township. Flynn asked about a traffic impact study, which there was none, and Leff asked about the environmental impact.