Lawsuit to Overturn Zoning Ordinance at The Heights at Monmouth Dismissed
October 30, 2018
Scarinci Hollenbeck Successful in Securing Dismissal of Lawsuit to Overturn Zoning Ordinance at The Heights at Monmouth
Red Bank, NJ, October 30, 2018 – Scarinci Hollenbeck successfully secured a judgment on behalf of a developer seeking to redevelop the Monmouth Mall, turning back a challenge to a zoning ordinance that allows mixed-use buildings at the mall. The suit was filed by a group of Eatontown residents opposed to the redevelopment project, otherwise known as The Heights at Monmouth. The group accused the Borough of Eatontown of violating the Municipal Land Use Law and the Open Public Meetings Act. Scarinci Hollenbeck successfully intervened on behalf of the developer and in favor of the Borough. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of the Borough.
The Heights at Monmouth calls for a major renovation of the Monmouth Mall, converting it from a traditional mall into a new-age experiential lifestyle center. Plans include a renovated retail pad, a new medical arts center, entertainment areas, along with a 700-unit mixed-use building. Prior to September 2016, the zoning ordinances did not permit mixed-use buildings at the mall site. This changed on September 14, 2016, when the Eatontown Borough Council adopted Ordinance 10-2016.
In response, four Eatontown residents filed suit and accused the Borough of “spot zoning,” or showing favoritism to the developer. They complained that the zoning ordinance was inconsistent with the Borough’s Master Plan because it allowed residential units at the mall.
Plaintiffs also alleged the Borough violated the Open Public Meetings Act by failing to move the meeting to a larger venue. The Borough had provided overflow seating in an adjacent firehouse and streamed the meeting onto a large screen. But plaintiffs complained about the temperature inside, the noise, and the audio and video feed.
After a bench trial in July 2017 that involved over a dozen witnesses and several hundred pages of exhibits, the Hon. Lisa P. Thornton, A.J.S.C., found against the plaintiffs. In her decision, Judge Thornton stated the zoning ordinance was “adopted to further a collective interest of the community, that being the provision of affordable housing” and “as part of a comprehensive plan to revitalize the commercial business zone.” The ordinance was both “substantially consistent” with, and “designed to effectuate,” the land use and housing plan elements of the Borough’s Master Plan.
In rejecting plaintiffs’ claims about the firehouse conditions, the court held that “after hearing the testimony, it is apparent the plaintiffs’ testimony was affected by their bias against the ordinance.” Judge Thornton noted “[t]here was no attempt to limit the substance of any comments, and no evidence the governing body sought to preclude the opinions of residents who disagreed with the ordinance.” Instead, the Borough “went above and beyond to ensure residents were able to see and hear government at work” by setting up the firehouse and broadcasting the meeting over Facebook Live, which permitted “residents to watch and comment on the proceedings in their homes, cars, or offices.”