SHORT HILLS, NJ - On Wednesday, November 20, the Concerned Residents of Millburn and Short Hills, Inc., a New Jersey nonprofit corporation comprised of residents and taxpayers of Millburn Township, gathered at the Racquets Club to discuss a pending lawsuit the group filed with their attorney Daniel Steinhagen, Counselor at Law with Beattie Padovano of Montvale, NJ.
The lawsuit was filed in Essex County Superior Court on October 31 with regard to the development of 1.5 acres of land on the corner of Woodland and Chatham Roads, adjacent to the Short Hills train station. The parcel of land, owned by the Silverman Group, received approval from the Millburn Township Committee in September, via an ordinance created to approve a settlement agreement between the township and the developer. The township was the named defendant in a builder's remedy lawsuit initiated by the developer.
A copy of the ordinance can be found here.
The planned development proposes to create a 62-unit residential apartment complex that includes parking and 10,000 square feet of commercial office space for the Summit Medical Group. Twelve of the 62 units would be dedicated for affordable housing.
At the meeting, Steinhagen discussed the merits of the complaint to attendees as well as answered questions about the lawsuit and anticipated outcomes.
The five count complaint, in summary, includes the following:
1. Spot Zoning/Contract Zoning: The ordinance is not substantially consistent with the Township Master Plan and designed solely to relieve Silverman of the applicable zoning restrictions, zoning power to invalidly spot zone is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.
2. Invalid Purpose: Property is encumbered by restrictions that render it unavailable for inclusionary affordable housing,
3. Substantive Failure to Express Reasons for Adoption of the Ordinance Inconsistent with the Master Plan: Reasons for the adoption of the ordinance are legally insufficient.
4. Failure to Comply with Statutory and Municipal Procedural Requirements: Adoption of the ordinance did not follow procedures required by the Municipal Land Use Law and other statutes.
5. Conflict of Interest: Cheryl Burstein (Millburn Township Committeewoman) is the Chief Operating Officer of a law firm where the firm's office space is owned by the Silverman Group. The complaint does not allege any actual wrong doing by Burstein but states it creates the appearance of impropriety.
"The real issue is that the town [Millburn], in our opinion, failed to protect itself", said Steinhagen. "Had they [Millburn Township Committee] done what the vast majority of their neighbors, other towns in similar situations did, we wouldn't be here".
Steinhagen commented that if the township committee had gone into court and asked for protection against a builder's remedy lawsuit, which he claims the committee had the opportunity, the lawsuit would not have been filed.
The two-hour meeting was organized by Debra Nevas and John Fox, both residents of the Glenwood neighborhood of Short Hills. Together they mustered a movement of local residents who oppose the proposed development in its current state. Additionally, they helped the group established themselves as a New Jersey nonprofit corporation, created of a GoFundMe page to raise money for legal fees and to organize awareness campaigns.
Both Nevas and Fox made it clear that the Concerned Residents of Millburn and Short Hills, Inc. is not opposed to development or affordable housing but rather in favor of more reasonable development that would not negatively impact the small community where they reside.