Ocean County Superior Court Assignment Judge Francis Hodgson today put the brakes on a Southern Ocean County Township's attempt to overturn its own Zoning Board's approval of an application simply because there is Jewish money backing the project.

Mel-John sought approval from Stafford Township's Zoning Board to permit the construction of two townhouse buildings each containing five units with two garage spaces per unit.

The Use is Conditionally permitted, and required setback relief from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Unlike a regular Use Variance (D1) which the Municipal Land Use Law clearly states that can only be granted "in particular cases for special reasons", a Conditional Use (D3) Variance requires much lighter testimony as the use is already permitted and the variance is really only on the "conditions" and therefore this can be granted with simply "a showing that such variance or other relief can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance."

Per the Board's meeting minutes and Resolution of Approval, the applicant's professionals provided sufficient testimony for the required Conditional Use Variance relief and as such, the Zoning Board - which, as a Land Use Board, only has jurisdiction over land use matters, regardless of Religious affiliation - voted to approve the application on October 5, 2022. The Board adopted their Resolution of Approval on October 19, 2022.

No members of the public spoke up on the record regarding the application. The Board's vote of approval was unanimous. No members of the public spoke up on the record regarding this approval at the next meeting of the Township Council.

Yet, from behind the scenes, once Township officials learned that there is Jewish money backing this project, as first reported here on FAA News, back in December, they went so far as to file a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking to overturn the Zoning Board's approval!

The Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writs, filed by Township Attorney Jean Cipriani, alleges that the Board "failed to discuss any of the requested conditional use variances, and to analyze whether the requested conditional use variances affected the suitability of the site for the proposed use and their impact on the adjacent properties, and to make any findings of fact or conclusions of law in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal Land Use Law and existing case law," and therefore, the Board’s approval of the application is "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and contrary to the Municipal Land Use Law and the ordinances of Stafford Township."

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the Board's Resolution of approval and for award of "such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable."

Curiously, the Township Council appropriate their Zoning Board's budget so that would be money going from one pocket back to the other pocket. The winners will of course be all the attorneys.

With no choice in the matter, the Jewish developers - who do not have access to taxpayer funds - retained Land Use Attorney John Doyle Esq. to take on the case.

Mr. Doyle filed a Motion for Dismissal, arguing that the Township lacked standing to bring suit against its own Zoning Board of Adjustment, and even if they did have standing, either way the applicant provided sufficient testimony to receive approval for their Conditional Use Variance application, the Board concurred with their testimony, and the Board adopted a sufficient Resolution of Approval and therefore the lawsuit must be dismissed.

Mr. Doyle also highlighted to the Court that there is no public record of the Township Council formally authorizing the filing of this lawsuit, rather, everything done behind closed doors.

At a motion hearing this morning, Judge Hodgson agreed that the Township's attempt to meddle with this land use application was quite lousy, and dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

The Jewish developers are now considering taking their own legal action to expose the anti-Semitism and recoup their legal fees from the Township.

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Anonymous said...

Who are these 'Jewish money' developers?
Who is Mel-JOhn?

Anonymous said...

Mel john is local developer. He is the biggest residential developer is the town of Stafford.

Anonymous said...

The mayor is an idiot. He had to go on a lawsuit which he was definitely going to lose just to bother a jew. Really stupid. He well never get elected to hire office with such a history.

Yidel Baruch said...

The mayor and his attorney need serious psychological help. They knew they were going to lose and they went for it anyway. A famous antisemite who claimed he was not; said " an antisemite is someone who hates jews more then the minimum necceserry". Obviously to the mayor this was part of the necessary minimum.

If you only knew... said...

If you pay closer attention, you'll also see that the same attorney which represented Stafford Twp against its zoning board is also currently representing Lakewood Twp's highly dubious defense of Lake Terrace for its flagrant violations of our zoning code and which inflicted direct financial damage upon its business neighbors. Makes you really think hard about the brainless decisions our committeemen are making behind closed doors.

Stafford Township Answers said...

In his remarks the Honorable Judge mentioned a Stafford Vs Stafford case in 1999 which was dismissed by the court, and which in his words, had more merit then this case. Why would the Town sue if they lost the same case in 1999? Do you feel the merits of this case were any better? In what way?

The complaint in the Stafford Township v. Stafford Township Zoning Board case decided in 1999 was not dismissed by the Court. In that case, the Township challenged the Zoning Board’s lack of jurisdiction to recognize prior nonconforming uses. The Law Division dismissed the case based on a lack of standing but the Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that the Township did have standing to challenge the board’s certification via an action in lieu of prerogative writs. The court held that since the Zoning Board exceeded its authority when it certified a prior nonconforming use without proper notice to the neighboring landowners and the board’s action threatened the public’s interest, the Township had standing to challenge the decision.

Was the owner contacted, prior to going to court, to see if things can be resolved?
The suit was primarily against the Zoning Board because the governing body did not feel that the Board had fully reviewed the requested variances to the standard required by law. As the attorney for the applicant. Mel-John was informed early on, the governing body took no position on the underlying project, it only wanted to ensure that the Zoning Board was in full compliance with the Municipal Land Use Law. Even had the Township succeeded in the suit, the matter would simply have been remanded to the Zoning Board to make a more complete record, which would have very likely not made any substantive change to the approval but would have reminded the Zoning Board of the scope of the statutory inquiry it is legally required to make.

The owner said he would have been happy to go back to the board and amend the resolution. Owner claims he was not contacted by the Township nor the RMSHC law firm. Kindly confirm or deny this claim.

Legal counsel for the Township spoke with the attorney for the owner. As was explained to the attorney for the owner, and to the owners in a virtual meeting, the offer to amend the resolution was rejected because the Township believes the Board did not review the variance applications in the manner required by the Municipal Land Use Law. However, the court ultimately did not agree with the Township’s position.