Jackson Township's Mayor Mike Reina was not too long ago holding the victory crown the night the Council approved his land swap with Mordechai Eichorn.

However, this land swap is now in some serious jeopardy as the plan is reliant on another Lakewood developer selling land to the Township, and, it turns out, there is a dispute on how the money they are offering him should be distributed, according to a newly filed lawsuit, FAA News has learned.

Back in October 2022, as previously reported here on FAA News, the Jackson Planning Board heard testimony on a proposal an application submitted by Bellevue Estates, LLC, which is owned by Lakewood resident Mordechai Eichorn, to build 4 schools on a 30-acre parcel of land at 443 Leesville Road between Burke and Diamond Road.

Thereafter, as previously reported here on FAA News, Mayor Reina broke the news that in order "to protect existing neighborhoods within Jackson Township and to protect and honor the rights of all Jackson residents," he "successfully negotiated to acquire Eichorn's farm [to keep it for open space]."

This acquisition was to take place in the form of a land swap for Township owned land near the Lakewood Cross Street border.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in February 2023, the Council unanimously approved the proposed land swap.

It turns out though that the subsequent "paperwork" has not been progressing as planned, which is causing havoc to the land swap proposal.

The Township's proposal included for Eichorn to receive 4 lots which were not actually owned by the Township. Township officials apparently intended to purchase these lots and then to give them to Eichorn.

According to a newly filed lawsuit, it turns out that the property owner cannot agree on how the money they are offering him should be distributed.

Township Attorney Jerry Dasti Esq. is not taking this matter sitting down, and, with the Township Council's authorization, has just filed legal action in Superior Court seeking to take the properties under the condemnation process.

Municipalities are permitted, pursuant to State Statute, to take lands by way of condemnation, if they can assert that the taking of the land is for a "public purpose."

Mr. Dasti wrote in his court filing that the taking is for a public purpose as the Township needs the land for "open space." (I.e., for the open space that they are trying to give to the Leesville Road neighborhood).

One of the lots is 0.34 acres in area. The current owner purchased it in 2015 for $9,000 from Keith and Arlene Rossmeissl. The Township has now offered him $82,000 for the vacant property.

The other lot is 0.31 acres in area. The current owner purchased it in 2022 for $19,975 from Judith Folkes, Executor of the Estate of Adele Kelsey. The Township has now offered him $75,000 for the vacant property.

The Township offered these prices after receiving an appraisal of these values.

"The Township has determined that it needs to acquire the entire property to affect a land exchange for the preservation of open space. The Township is authorized to proceed under the Eminent Domain Act to acquire property as it shall deem necessary," wrote Mr. Dasti in two separate Complaints filed in Ocean County Superior Court.

Mr. Dasti's proposed Orders seek judgement determining and adjudging that the Township is authorized to and has duly exercised its power of eminent domain with respect to the property; and appointing 3 disinterested residents of Ocean County to fix the compensation to be paid to Defendant for the taking of the property.

The property owners have not yet filed an answer to the just filed complaints.

Judge Hodgson has scheduled a hearing on the matter to held on Wednesday, July 21.

At the Township Council's public hearing on the adoption of the land swap ordinance, numerous White Street residents who would be the neighbors of these new schools spoke up in fierce opposition to the land swap, citing the traffic safety concerns due to the narrow roads and lack of sidewalks. Neighbors also highlighted that there is no sewer in the area and planning schools for 1,000 students only on septic tanks does not sound like smart planning.

A number of residents suggested that Township officials look into creating a school zone in area which is appropriately "serviceable" with wider roads and utilities.

As the news was first broken here on FAA News, residents who are opposed to the swap filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the proposal. The lawsuit was filed by Attorney Jan Meyer Esq.

The 4-count lawsuit names as Defendants the Township Council, Mayor Reina, and Bellevue Estates, and contains an allegation that the land swap discriminates against their "Jewish neighborhood."

The lawsuit also asserts that the Township is Statutorily required to make a determination that properties in a land swap are of substantially equal value; the Township's ordinance contends that the Council relied on appraisal reports to make the Statutorily required determination, however, the appraisal reports were not attached to the Ordinance, nor were they made available to the public.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Township Clerk has refused requests to release the important appraisals which purports to show that the properties are of substantially equal value, saying that the Township simply does not have any such records - shockingly admitting to the lawsuit's claims that the Township never got the appraisals upon which their ordinance claims they relied!

Since the filing of the lawsuit, the parties have consented to withdrawing Mayor Reina from the suit after Mr. Dasti argued that the only portion of the lawsuit which specifically charged Reina is the Second Count which asserts that upon information and belief he has a close, personal relationship with the principal of Bellevue Estates, and appeals for enforcement of the Local Government Ethics Law must be made to the Local Finance Board in the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs and not to the Superior Court.

Mr. Eichorn is represented by Attorney Donna Jennings Esq.

It remains to be seen if the land swap proposal will indeed be able to withstand all the hot water that it has landed in.

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