Helmetta ‘abused its discretion’ by rejecting development plan: court

HELMETTA — A state appeals court has upheld a Superior Court decision that overturned the borough’s rejection of a plan to build 70 age-restricted homes on High Street.

According to the ruling, the borough’s Land Use Board’s decision “was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” as it refused 15 High Street LLC’s offer to revise its plan in response to concerns raised by the council and residents.

“We are satisfied that the council abused its discretion in refusing to respond to (15 High Street’s) offer to revise its development plan,” the appeal committee wrote in its seven-page decision.

15 High Street LLC applied in June 2019 to build 72 time-limited units in four buildings on the property. The developer reduced the number of units to 70 and added parking in response to questions from council members.

But when the Land Use Board rejected the plan, the developer then sued in Superior Court, alleging board members ignored expert testimony.

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The lawsuit argued that the developer provided testimony from a professional engineer, traffic expert, architect, professional planner and economist in support of the claim.

“The plaintiff’s expert testimony was unchallenged and accepted by the counsel professional who raised no objection to the plan,” the lawsuit argued.

The lawsuit also argued that council members failed to follow state law, council counsel’s instructions, and failed to state valid reasons for his denial.

After a trial, Superior Court Judge Thomas McCloskey issued a “comprehensive” 42-page decision that overturned the council’s decision.

McCloskey ruled that the board could only “require reasonable terms” in its approval of the plans.

But the borough disagreed, and in its appeal argued that McCloskey erred and “improperly substituted judgment” in approving the project.

Upholding the judge’s decision, the appeals court wrote that while a land use board may reject a claimant’s expert testimony, it must do so on the basis of contrary testimony rather than “mere allegations or unfounded beliefs”.

“A resolution based on the comments and concerns of council members or local residents will not satisfy a council’s obligation to base its decision on evidence presented at a hearing,” according to the court ruling. call.

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Susan Loyer covers Middlesex County and more for MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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