SHORT HILLS, NJ - Mack-Cali, the largest commercial real estate company in New Jersey, filed a lawsuit last week against the affluent borough of Upper Saddle River, NJ.  This was not the first complaint they filed since they attempted discussions with the borough in early 2013 to rezone a 47-acre commercial property to build 560 units of mix-use residential housing. 

Builder’s remedy lawsuits against municipalities by developers are common in cases of dispute.  Developers argue that they have a right to build and often site state and federally mandated fair housing laws, the Mount Laurel doctrine and discrimination to justify zoning and development authorization.

In the case of Upper Saddle River, the genesis of the lawsuits can be traced back to May 3, 2013 when Mack-Cali attempted to initiate dialogue with township Mayor Joanne Minichetti and the borough council.  On April 3, 2014 the borough voted to redirect the submitted proposal to the borough’s planning board.

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In an October 1, 2014 letter sent to the Mayor Minichetti, Mack-Cali attorney Bart Mongelli demonstrated his client’s growing frustration from the inability to “establish an open dialogue” and attached a copy of a Complaint that was filed with the Superior Court of New Jersey. 

According to Upper Saddle River Town Square, Mack-Cali filed complaints in Superior Court in July 2015 claiming alleged violations of the federal fair Housing Act.  Most recently, Mack-Cali is suing in federal court.

18 months ago, Mack-Cali approached Millburn’s township committee with similar desires, to develop residential housing units on a parcel of land that was then zoned for commercial use near the Short Hills Mall.  In Millburn’s case, unlike Upper Saddle River, there was an open dialogue between the township and the developer.  The developer’s initial plans were to build 400 residential units and requested rezoning approval.  Ultimately a 200 residential unit and a 250-room hotel was agreed to and a recommendation to Millburn’s Planning Board was made.  On September 17, 2015 the Planning Board approved an amendment to the Master Plan. 

The project is not yet approved, only the use of the land for mix-use is currently allowed.  Hearings and testimonies will not take place until the beginning of the New Year.  It is at this point and time when the developer must convince the Planning Board how they plan to manage the environmental impact a project of this scope with have on the township.  Logistics issues such as transportation, sewage and power will be discussed in addition to issues of population density, safety and the project’s impact on the school system.  This is a lengthy process that will include expert testimony from both sides.  The applicant will pay the cost of subject matter experts that will be retained to represent the township. This is also an opportunity for the developer to have direct conversations with the public and where residents can voice their concerns directly to them.

Mack-Cali is a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) listed on the NYSE with a market capitalization of $2.06B.  The company has 283 properties totaling 31 million square feet, which includes 2,000 commercial tenants and 19 multi-family rental properties containing 5,500 residential units.  They are headquartered in Edison, NJ.