NEWTON, NJ - Superior Court Judge Michael C. Gaus approved of Chatham Township's amended plan to put 62 affordable housing units at 522 Southern Boulevard, the site of the now-closed Charlie Brown's, in the completion of a fairness hearing held Thursday morning.

The virtual meeting was conducted from the courthouse in Newton.

Judge Gaus also ruled that Chatham Township would retain its immunity against builder remedy lawsuits because of the ordinances and resolutions it had passed to move the plan forward. 

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The judge set a 9 a.m. Dec. 14, 2020, court date as the final compliance hearing for the township's litigated agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center for its third round obligation of affordable housing. The initial agreement had been struck Dec. 13, 2018.

The hearing began with testimony on Sept. 17 and was adjourned until Thursday morning.

Attorneys for Kronos Holdings LLC, the owner of the Charlie Brown's property, and the Silverman Group both argued against approval of the plan because of the township's stated intention to use Eminent Domain to purchase the property if a a mutual agreement cannot be reached.

The Silverman Group said it was already contracted to purchase the three-acre piece of land before the township decided to go the condemnation route.

"I understand the controversy as it relates to condemnation," Judge Gaus said. "The appropriate place to resolve any of those disputes would be in that litigation."

Attorney Thomas Prol, representing Kronos, cited case law in making his argument and said: "This will not survive the condemnation test."

Silverman Group attorney Derek Orth noted at the Sept. 17 portion of the hearing that the Silverman Group was the "contract purchaser of two sites" in Chatham Township (522 Southern Boulevard and allegedly the Noe Pond property).

"On its face, we respectfully submit that this agreement doe not pass muster - under the East West Venture case nor does it create a realistic opportunity that housing gets built for low-and-moderate income families who live in the region," Orth said. "Moreover, your honor, it is nearly certain that the municipality will have to expend millions and millions of public dollars to achieve this goal. As Mr. Prol noted, there are other ways to provide affordable housing in the Township of Chatham that is far more realistic."

Orth asserted that the rezoning of the two sites purchased by the Silverman Group - with set-asides for affordable housing - would be a more realistic plan. He also said that the current plan will be "fraught with litigation and uncertainty. The property owner already has stated that it will oppose the taking of its property."

Resident Rich Rein, of Rollings Hills Drive in Chatham Township, said that "The Silverman Group is holding Chatham Township hostage, asking for a change in zoning at the Noe Pond site, which is wholly inappropriate for any kind of development."

Both Rein and resident Francine Leff, of the Sunset Lake area of the township, objected to any such developments without proper environmental impact studies being taken. 

Resident Kimberly Flynn, whose property bumps up against the back of the Charlie Brown's property, said she wasn't a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) person, but objected to the size of the proposed project on only three acres of land. She also called the township's move to take possession of the property through Eminent Domain "deplorable."