Forest City Ratner Bloomfield Project in Jeopardy
Carlin & Ward, Attorneys at Law
Essex County Assignment Judge Patricia K. Costello issued an order and opinion yesterday dismissing the condemnation case filed by the Township of Bloomfield against 110 Washington Street Associates. This was the first condemnation case filed by the township in its redevelopment project for the downtown center.
The decision of the court is a major setback for Bloomfield in its efforts to acquire property through eminent domain proceedings. The town’s plan was a joint venture of Forest City Ratner and Toll Brothers and included 650 residential condominiums and a 65,000 square foot Stop and Shop with an elevated parking deck.
The court found that the underlying planning process was fatally flawed. The Heyer and Gruel Planning Report improperly designated 110 Washington Street as meeting the definitions of blighted property under the Local Redevelopment Housing Law. The court said, “The record in this case is devoid of any finding that the property is detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare.”
Daniel Goldstein, spokesperson for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a community coalition fighting Forest City Ratner’s proposed use of eminent domain in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, said, “If Forest City Ratner and New York’s Empire State Development Corporation try to make similar blight findings in Brookyn, we are sure they will meet the same fate they have in Bloomfield, New Jersey. And clearly the lack of a planning process for the Ratner proposal in Brooklyn is a fatal flaw, as it was in Bloomfied.” Goldstein continued, “We are very happy for our allies in New Jersey, and that justice has won out, as we expect it to do so in Brooklyn.”
In addition, the court ruled that it was improper for attorney Steven Martino to represent both the planning board and the mayor and council during the consideration of the redevelopment plan and the approval of the plan by the municipality. The court said, “The Defendant argues that the attorneys’ conflicts of interest in dual representation of both the Planning Board and the Township have tainted the determination that the subject property is in need of redevelopment. Clearly, the attorneys should not have represented both public entities at the same time. Such representation is expressly barred by statute. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-24. In addition there are numerous opinions criticizing the same conduct.”
110 Washington Street previously filed an action in Lieu of Prerogative Writ which was dismissed by order of Judge Claude M. Coleman on May 27. Judge Costello ruled that Judge Coleman’s decision did not preclude her from dismissing this complaint since Coleman’s ruling was based strictly on the matter having been filed after the 45-days within which a property owner can challenge municipal action. Judge Coleman did not make any findings of fact or conclusions of law on the merits of the case.
In a companion case which was consolidated with 110 Washington Street, Lardieri et al v. Township of Bloomfield, Judge Coleman entered an order dismissing that complaint on July 20. “It is unlikely now, given the ruling of Judge Costello yesterday, that the township will file any additional condemnation complaints for the project which would include the properties owned by Alessandro Lardieri, Victor and Debbie Lewis, Lewis Santus, and Myrna and Lita Cicero, the plaintiffs in the companion case,” said William J. Ward, principal attorney of Carlin and Ward of Florham Park, N.J.
Both Ward and his partner, James M. Turteltaub, appeared on behalf of the litigants in these cases against Bloomfield. The Township of Bloomfield was represented by Catherine E. Tamasik of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole, and Wieseler of Teaneck, N.J.
Carlin & Ward, Box 751, Florham Park NJ 07932
973-377-3350, fax 973-377-5626
The full text of the order of Dismissal and the Opinion are online at: