WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Honorable Judge Patrick Bartels, J.S.C. of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County Law Division has officially ruled to uphold a decision by the Township of West Orange to designate Essex Green Shopping Center and Executive Drive as areas in need of redevelopment, according to the township’s public information officer, Joseph Fagan.
In the fall of 2017, the West Orange Planning Board (WOPB) commissioned a study to determine whether Essex Green and Executive Drive properties—which include 70 acres located on top of the first mountain is near the geographical center of West Orange—would qualify for redevelopment.
The study subsequently determined that the properties qualify under state law as areas in need of redevelopment.
The West Orange Township Council voted 4-1 to adopt the WOPB’s recommendation to proceed. However, moving forward with redevelopment hit a legal hurdle in January 2018 when West Orange resident Kevin Malanga, the named plaintiff, sought to have the decision overturned in Superior Court, Fagan explained.
According to Fagan, Malanga’s legal action ultimately delayed the process and proved unsuccessful, as Bartels dismissed the case with prejudice against the Township of West Orange, the WOPB and the township council.
“The statute specifically allows for redevelopment of an area due to obsolescence, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation and light, obsolete layout, or a combination of the above,” said Bartels. “As the township’s designation was supported by substantial evidence in the record, this court is bound to affirm that determination.”
In a written opinion, the court found that all procedural and substantive requirements of the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law were complied with in their entirety. According to Bartels, “the township’s designation was supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
“[Malanga] has failed to present evidence or legal authority warranting an invalidation of the [Planning Board and Township Council] Resolutions,” the court wrote, adding that Malanga’s arguments “lack merit.”
As a result of the court’s ruling, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said that the township is “pleased with the court’s findings and is looking forward to moving ahead with a project that will benefit the entire West Orange community.”
The Essex Green portion of this Redevelopment Zone was recently approved by the West Orange Zoning Board and is now being prepared for the construction phase of the project.
According to Fagan, this is not the first time that Malanga has filed suit against the township attempting to stop redevelopment projects.
His first lawsuit, filed in 2009, was an attempt to prevent the Main Street Redevelopment project from moving forward. That lawsuit was similarly dismissed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2014, making way for the $200 million dollar Edison Lofts redevelopment project.
This project is well on its way toward completion, with more than 100 of the luxury apartments rented and Phase II scheduled to begin in 2020, according to Fagan.