Updated June 10, 2015 with the full statement and motion of the Planning Board regarding the appeal.
After about an hour of discussion in executive session, the Maplewood Planning Board decided tonight that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on an appeal by Village Keepers, Inc.
On May 21, Village Keepers filed an appeal with the Planning Board on actions taken by the Maplewood Village Alliance Special Improvement District Board of Directors earlier this year regarding the Post House development project at the former location of the Maplewood Post Office.
The Village Keepers’ appeal involved the denial of a motion by the Alliance Board to have the town show “significant financial hardship” prior to the demolition of the building, as well as alleging that neither the MVA nor its Post Office Development Review Subcommittee reviewed a proper site plan for the development, as required, before approving the PODRS’ recommendations on May 6. (Read the appeal below.)
Planning Board Counsel Michael Edelson read a motion (read below) stating that the appeal required resolving the issue of whether the provisions of the redevelopment plan and the design criteria for the proposed project took precedence over an earlier town ordinance, and that the Planning Board did not have authority to rule on this. The motion also noted that Village Keepers had also filed a civil action with the Superior Court of Essex County raising the same issues. “Given that … the Planning Board declines jurisdiction of the appeal,” read Edelson.
With Mayor Vic DeLuca, Committeeman Jerry Ryan and John Branigan of the MVA Board abstaining, the Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the motion.
Planning Board members include: Tom Carlson (Chair), James Nathenson (Vice Chair), Nancy Adams (Democratic candidate for Township Committee), Branigan, Craig Miller, Tammy Haynie, and DeLuca and Ryan, who serve as liaisons to the Township Committee. John Larrier and Edward Bolden serve as alternates.
Carlson stated simply after the vote, “We believe we don’t have jurisdiction.” He had noted before the Planning Board went into executive session that the appeal invoked an 15-year-old one-sentence clause that had never been invoked before. Carlson noted that the Planning Board would not be debating the “merits of the appeal tonight.”
Edelson agreed with a suggestion by Ryan that the board discuss the issue in executive session because he would be giving the board his opinion and advice which would entail attorney-client privilege.
After the decision, former Mayor Fred Profeta, an opponent of the proposed Post House development, said that he disagreed with the decision. I don’t think you are disabled from deciding.” Profeta added, “It’s not only a matter of the appeal but because the Alliance’s approval is a precondition of your consideration.”
The appeal reads as follows:
Pursuant to Township Ordinance Section 237-9.2(D), Village Keepers, Inc. hereby appeals to the Township of Maplewood Planning Board the decisions of the Maplewood Village Special Improvement District, Inc. (the “Alliance”) taken on April 8 and May 6, 2015, in which the Alliance denied a motion to apply Township Ordinance Section 237-9.1(B)(6) to the plans submitted by the Township and/or Maplewood Redevelopers, LLC (including, but not limited to plans submitted by a related entity known as JMF Realty, LLC) in connection with the captioned site, and which requires the property owner to demonstrate to the Alliance a “significant financial hardship” (as well as other requirements) prior to the demolition of any building within the Maplewood Village Special Improvement District and, (b) the Alliance’s approval and forwarding of the application related to the above site to the Planning Board pursuant to Township Ordinance 237-9.1, et seq..
Statement by Michael Edelson:
The Board reconvened after Executive Session.
Board Attorney Michael Edelson read the following statement:
Deciding the appeal set forth in the May 21, 2015 letter from Village Keepers Inc. requires resolving the legal issue of whether the provision of the Post Office Redevelopment Plan requiring demolition of the post office building or the provisions of the Maplewood Village Alliance Design Criteria Ordinance, requiring certain proofs before any demolition can take place, take precedence. The Planning Board is not a judicial or quasi judicial body that has the authority to adjudicate such issues.
At approximately the same time that the Village Keepers served their appeal letter to the Planning Board, they filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs in the Superior Court naming the Alliance, the Township of Maplewood and the designated developer of the Post Office redevelopment site as defendants. That lawsuit raises exactly the same issues that are raised in the appeal letter to the Board.
The Board accordingly declines jurisdiction of the appeal.
From the minutes of the meeting:
On a motion by James Nathenson and seconded by Tammy Haynie, the Board voted Affirmative: (6) Thomas Carlson, James Nathenson, Nancy Adams, Tammy Haynie, Craig Miller, John Larrier; Negative (0); Abstention (3) Mayor DeLuca, Jerry Ryan, John Branigan to adopt the statement read by Board Counsel Michael Edelson. Motion Carries 6-0-3