The Full Montville – The Town that Sued Itself

MONTVILLE – Fights over development are common in New Jersey, but this one is different.

The township of Montville is essentially suing itself.

Go figure.

This intra-community legal battle has its roots in a proposal by Diversified Properties LLC.  to develop an age-restricted community that would include 266 units and such amenities as a swimming pool and tennis courts. This would be built near where Route 287 crosses the township and in the vicinity of River Road and Route 202.

As is the norm with these things, there was resident opposition as the plan meandered its way through a series of Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings. As the regulatory venue suggests, variances were needed.

And last fall, the board in a 5-2 vote granted 20 variances, which seems like an astonishing number to be sure, and approved the project.

Litigation to overturn the approval was quickly filed by a resident.

One does not intend to make light of resident opposition, but to be candid, litigation of this type is not unusual.

Now we come to the township committee, which filed its own suit seeking to overturn the approval last Nov. 20.

That was unusual.

The township contends, in short, that the zoning board “acted beyond its statutory authority,” and in doing so, it “arrogated” the zoning powers of the township.

The suit notes that the township committee considered a “senior housing overlay zone” for the roughly 29-acre tract in question, but it did not approve one.

So in layman’s terms, the zoning board messed up – big time – by sanctioning the project.

The committee’s reasoning is not what’s unusual. What is peculiar is the suit itself.

Boards of Adjustment are not independent entities; they are part of the municipal government. Board members are appointed and approved by the township committee.

So, the committee is suing a group of people it themselves appointed.

And given the fact both the committee and the board are government bodies – as opposed to private entities – you have to figure that township taxpayers are on the hook for both ends of the litigation. Up to a point at least.

The developer, Diversified Properties, is a defendant as well. The township won’t need to pay their attorney, but it, presumably, would need to pay the zoning board’s attorney for any work related to the suit.

The township committee held its reorganization meeting Tuesday night and Dr. Matthew Kayne was appointed mayor. Under the township’s form of government, the 5-person committee names one of their own as mayor.

There was no mention of the suit itself, although it was pointed out that two veteran members of the zoning board have resigned.

Broadly speaking, it is just about always good politics to oppose a large-scale development project. As stated, many residents show up in opposition to such proposals.

Speaking after the meeting, Kayne refrained from in-depth conversation about the suit, which is customary. Although, he did say it was the right thing to do and had nothing to do with politics.

One who disagrees with that assessment is the attorney for Diversified Properties, Steven Schepis.

In a recent brief seeking dismissal of the suit, Schepis says the township’s litigation is a “politically motivated attempt to satiate the unreasonable demands of a handful of area residents” who he said are unhappy that 40 of the units will be reserved for low/moderate income seniors. He also said the township’s suit was procedurally deficient.

Things change all the time, but as of now, Judge Stuart Minkowitz is scheduled to hold a Jan. 26 hearing on this odd Montville Civil War.

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11 responses to “The Full Montville – The Town that Sued Itself”

  1. Nobody wants the amount of development the state has forced on the towns and cities of New Jersey. Overlay zones make it much easier to get or force a zoning board into approving these developments. But this is not an overlay zone. The part of reporting this and finding out if the Zoning Board was wrong or if its just a political move by the Mayor and Council is what the 20 variances were. While it sounds alot , many of them could be bulk variances that are given often. A review of the 20 would go along way in finding out who is over stepping on this.

  2. The decision to approve this development by the Board was the political one and done by the hand picked members of the Governing Body. The Township is forced to sue because they got caught.

  3. As a resident in a nearby town going through a similar experience, I am sympathetic. Our residents pay an obscene amount of property taxes to maintain our standard of living and like our town the way it is; yet we are under constant siege from the state to rezone and develop our preserved green spaces and build, build build in areas that aren’t suitable for development or don’t have sufficient infrastructure to support such projects. Additionally, we just don’t want it.

    Its oppressive and borderline tyrannical. Until we can overturn Mt Laurel, it will only get worse.

  4. Hi Dennis,

    If you think Montville is corrupt (it is), wait till you get to Florida! I have a house in Montville and Cape Coral, FL. 40 years in NJ and 5 years in FL. and previously Jersey City, NJ. The politicians in Cape Coral could give lessons in corruption to the politicians in Jersey City. Montville is actually amateur hour compared to Florida.

  5. Interesting that as NYC is proposing a congestion charge which will affect NJ residents NJ Courts and Developers are cramming more people into the most densely populated State in the Nation.m

  6. Steven Schepis has a faulty memory and makes unfounded claims. I was at every one of the public meetings on this project along with numerous concerned residents. I would estimate a minimum of 50-60 residents attended each meeting which dragged out over a year – not a “handful of residents.” And I do not recall any concerns raised for the fact that affordable units were involved. The big concern was over 250 units and likely 500 additional cars on Route 202 on top of two other rental projects already approved. The issues raised were concerns for traffic, violating numerous zoning rules, building height and density, wildlife and water impact, light pollution, historical buildings, and many more.

  7. Mr Schepis should look at the transcripts. No where does it object to the affordable units. It objects to the obvious rezoning. I myself commented at a meeting that I did not object to the project itself. I objected to where it would be built. Not the right project for these particular parcels of land.

  8. Let’s keep cramming more people into MONTVILLE Maybe we can soon start building on the aquifer that supplies the water for the town. Oh no, you can’t do that! Well, let’s build near sone wetlands. Hey no problem! Wait, has anyone thought about how the aquifer gets recharged? Please don’t tell me the water only comes from the area surrounding my property. Prove where the water comes from. Don’t tell me it all comes from the area in Towaco.

  9. Montville as a Town not only ranks high in Nepotism but the term “Diversity” has a different meaning. With regards to this project I cannot understand ‘ How can a committee who does not have the power to change Zoning can give approval for construction projects that violate the approved Zoning”. Secondly, the Township stipulates how much of our houses can be a built area and what percentage has to be open, including them asserting easements that make no sense and it is the same committee who does not apply the same ruling/percentage to the Montville Township Land. They cannot help seniors with basic amenities as Snow removal but hold referendums on increasing taxes coz schools can not cope with the increase of student population. Why approve construction before setting up the infra structure of the Town? Things like this happen when you have representatives with personal agenda in power rather than ones who work for collective good of the community.

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