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Judge Dismisses One of Two CRR Lawsuits Against Planning Board

CRR can re-file if council passes proposed "H-Zone" ordinance; other lawsuit scheduled for December case management hearing

Judge Dismisses One of Two CRR Lawsuits Against Planning Board

A Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit Valley "Renewal" opposition group for passing an ordinance that codified the amendment to the Ridgewood Master Plan.

Judge Alexander H. Carver III granted the Ridgewood Planning Board's motion to dismiss a seven-count lawsuit CRR filed in July of 2011 that challenged whether the planning board had the legal authority to draft an ordinance codifying the Master Plan "H-Zone" amendment it had passed in the June of 2010. The resident group can re-file at a future date should the council pass the planning board's ordinance, Carver ruled.

Carver delivered the oral ruling from the bench, according to Planning Board counsel Gail Price.

The resident group sought to overturn the planning board's April 2011 ordinance approval, which the council could adopt at the conclusion of its hearings on the Valley "Renewal" expansion plan. CRR claimed there was a notice violation, that a resolution had to be adopted and the board had no authority to draft an ordinance.

Carver found that CRR had not proven a single "justicable" claim against the planning board and said that if he ruled in CRR's favor, it would "have a chilling effect on land use practice in the state of New Jersey," according to Price. CRR attorneys confirmed that statement.

John J. Lamb, attorney representing CRR from firm Beattie Padovano, said the judge ruled that CRR's complaints were "premature."

"We agreed there was a scenario where this [complaint] is premature. The problem is the law only gives you 45 days to appeal and so you don't know what will happen by the time you file your appeal before 45 days," he said.

CRR's motion to consolidate this case with the original suit filed in August of 2010 was also dismissed by Carver, per the court order issued on Friday.

"We are pleased with this because number one, we preserved our rights [to refile] and number two, we don't have to litigate," Lamb said. "We have no desire to litigate these things."

CRR Chairman Pete McKenna said the dismissal was a "minor" development in the legal battle, something Price denies.

"We stand by our assertion that the residents’ rights to due process and a fair hearing of the issues were denied by the Planning Board in place during the contentious H-Zone Master Plan Amendment process and we look forward to having these issues heard by the courts," McKenna said.

The judge's dismissal does not affect the other lawsuit filed in August of 2010, which has yet to be heard in court. Those counts related to the alleged "errors" committed by the planning board throughout the over three-year process it had undertaken, something the planning board stringently denies. 

The remaining lawsuit's case management date is scheduled for December.

The Ridgewood Village Council has several options it could take regarding the Valley Hospital expansion hearings. It does not require the council to take action on the ordinance.

The council can either approve or amend the ordinance if it's introduced, or, by contrast, scrap the ordinance and present a new one that is inconsistent with the Master Plan amendment. A majority of the council (3 votes) would have to vote affirmatively.

The reasons must be from a "sound zoning and planning perspective," Village Attorney Rogers said at a reason special "H-Zone" meeting.

Judge Carver was not immediately available for comment.

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