Redevelopment

East Brunswick Business Owner Sues to Stop New Hotel Going Up in New Brunswick

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Overhead proposed site layout of the hotel. Credits: Daniel J. Munoz
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ -The owners of an East Brunswick hotel are suing to halt the construction of another such establishment a few miles away in New Brunswick.

Shan & Dylan LLC, who own a Comfort Suites just off Route 18, filed suit in an effort to press the New Brunswick Planning Board to rescind its approval of the four-story hotel, which ​was issued in November.

That proposal calls for a hotel with both 109 units and parking spaces, built on a 1.76 acre property within the jughandle connecting US-1 and Route 18 North. Currently the site is occupied by the now vacant and former site of a Bennigan's Restaurant.

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The suit also lists the hotel’s developers, Red Bank-based Highview Hospitality NB LLC, as defendants.

James Stahl, an attorney for the plaintiff, said the goal is to press the planning board to rescind approval of the hotel.​ 

Proposed front view of the hotel, at the November planning board meeting. Credit: Daniel J. Munoz

Stahl argued in the suit that the proposal didn’t consider the parking situation of the site, and that the hotel is not it an appropriate use for the property.

The proposed hotel would be an “intense and unsuitable proposal for the premises,” Stahl added.

Stahl said he doesn’t know what’d go up there instead, but that it should be “whatever could go on and fit on the site.”

Stahl is currently employed by the law firm Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman & Stahl. One of the partners, Anthony Vignuolo, was contracted as the attorney for the New Brunswick Ethics Board before ​this year.

Thomas Kelso, the attorney for Highview Hospitality, said the project will “continue moving forward as planned," despite the suit.

“A suit has been filed by a competitor and is without merit,” Kelso said.”We will be filing an answer and will vigorously defend.”

Kelso is also legal counsel for Middlesex County.  

The suit also alleged that the planning board overstepped its boundaries and legal jurisdiction by approving the hotel.

Stahl and his clients argue that the board approved ​a project for which they didn’t have the authority to allow, and that the move wasn’t consistent with the law or any facts.

“I’m not really sure there’s a justification for this because the variances that were granted were entirely within the purview of the board,” responded Aravin Aithal, who represents the city planning board. Aithal is an associate at Bob Smith & Associates, a law firm owned by State Senator Bob Smith, who represents New Brunswick as part of 17th Legislative District. 

The city council voted on Feb. 7 to approve up to $10,000 towards the legal bill for Aithal, on top of the $30,000 the city already pays him, according to city attorney TK Shamy. 

As for any traffic woes or insufficient quantity of parking, Aithal said the plaintiffs had the chance to testify against the proposal during the November meeting, which he said they didn’t do.

“The applicant had a consultant who was recognized as an expert by the board and provided testimony that would be necessary to satisfy the parking and safety issue,” Aithal.

Traffic problems were still a point of concern brought up at the meeting, and indeed many residents Rutgers Village, right next to the site of the would-be hotel, echoed those sentiments at the Nov. 13 planning board meeting.

“We’re the ones who will be most adversely affected by this hotel;​ it’s a nightmare,” said longtime Rutgers Village resident Marie Tasy, referring to traffic on Route 1​ and ​Route 18.

Tasy added: “We also have the carwash, it is so dangerous. We have people come off Route 1, we have people coming out of the Tiger Mart, and people do go really fast.”

But Aithal said, both at the meeting and an interview with TAPinto New Brunswick, that making decisions based on a proposed development’s traffic impact are simply beyond the planning board’s authority.

“If the board members started to question or make the condition of the approval that a point of ingress or egress had to be moved or they had make a new entrance, I would at that point advise the board that they do not have jurisdiction to make that demand or make that condition of approval,” Aithal said.

Aithal added: “This is a state road and the NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has exclusive jurisdiction over that road.” 

Abandoned Bennegin's Restaurant. Credit: Google Maps 

The former Bennegin's Restaurant, Aithal added, generated a much higher volume of traffic than would the hotel. In 2014, businessman Lawrence Blatterfein won a $1.5 million lawsuit against the city after his liquor license was denied for a proposed sports bar called "Buck Foston's Roadhouse."

The name was a play on words between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees' sports rivalry. 

In the neighborhood of this hotel will be a Red Carpet Inn and Motel 6 New Brunswick on Route 1, as well as a Hilton East Brunswick and Holiday Inn Express, both of which tower over Route 18 and the New Jersey Turnpike. 

Several other hotels and motels line Route 18 as it snakes through East Brunswick and Old Bridge. Aithal said it isn't uncommon for someone to file a suit to halt a new business going up.

"It does happen and it’s not unusual to find out that in the end that it’s an economic competitor," Aithal said.

Editor Daniel J. Munoz, dmunoz@tapinto.nettwitter.com/DanielMunoz100

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