SPARTA, NJ - The Lake Mohawk Country Club has filed a suit against the Sparta Planning Board and Councilman Jerry Murphy. The papers filed in Sussex County Superior Court on Friday are asking for relief from the 4-4 Planning Board vote that sunk their efforts to charge for parking in the lot on West Shore Trail.
The country club, represented by Kelly & Ward, L.L.C., argued their case to the Planning Board during four hearings that stretched over more than six months. The last hearing on March 1 began with attorney Megan Kelly and Stan Puszcz of CP Engineering reviewing 11 previous concerns raised by the planning board members. Each objection was answered or brought to a solution, some incorporated into the language of the proposed motion to approve the parking lot application.
The country club said they need to make repairs and reconfigure the parking lot across from the club house and adjacent to the tennis courts. In an effort to cover those and other ongoing costs the country club is seeking to add gates at the entrance and exit to collect a fee for parking in the lot.
The fourth hearing went on for hours, even requiring an intermission.
The issue that got Murphy special notoriety in the complaint was due to comments he made during the hearing and a statement he read prior to his vote.
The statement began, “Public officials are not required to give reasons for voting one way or another, but in the interest of transparency I would like to have the public be made aware that the Economic Development Committee discussed this proposed plan…” Murphy read the statement that preceded his “no” vote.
Murphy, by his own admission, sought input from the township’s business community in formulating his vote. That is objectionable according to the filing, because rather than base his vote on facts on record from the hearings in front of the Planning Board and the townships land use ordinances, Murphy solicited and used the opinion of members of the Economic Development Committee to decide his vote.
The suit says Murphy erred in doing so because the Economic Development Committee was not party to nor did they give testimony in the matter.
The compliant quotes from minutes of the Economic Development Committee for December 12, 2016 and January 12, 2017 where the country club application was discussed.
The filing reiterates the case presented to the Planning Board; relevant land use ordinances, previous applications and agreements between the Lake Mohawk Country Club and Sparta Township regarding the parking lot.
The complaint claims, based on Sparta Township Land Use ordinances and other precedent setting agreements between the township and the country club, the Planning Board does not have the jurisdiction or “legal authority to mandate the use of this private property for public use…” Further the “…Board was obsessed with LMCC’s decision to charge a modest sum for non-members to use its parking lot.”
Included in the complaint are many quotes from the final hearing on the topic of how much would be charged for parking.
The suit requests relief by eliminating Murphy's vote, calling his actions “improper and adversely affecting the… vote and outcome of LMCC’s application.” Doing so would give them a winning 4-3 vote, allowing for the implementation of the parking lot plan.
They further ask for the Sparta Planning Board to reimburse the Lake Mohawk Country Club for expenses, professional fees, attorney fees and costs of the suit, along with “other such relief as the Court deems just and reasonable.”
Attorney Kevin Kelly declined further comment for now, saying “everything is in the complaint.”
Murphy and Planning Board Committee Chairman Ernest Hofer did not respond in time for publication. Hofer voted “yes” on the application.