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Tri-State Ship Repair & Dry Dock Co. v. City of Perth Amboy

March 28, 2002

TRI-STATE SHIP REPAIR & DRY DOCK CO., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF PERTH AMBOY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. LANDINGS AT HARBORSIDE, INTERVENOR-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, L- 10895-99.

Before Judges Pressler, Wefing and Lesemann.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued: September 25, 2001

Remanded: November 8, 2001

Re-argued: March 5, 2002

This matter was originally argued before us on September 25, 2001. At oral argument, plaintiff raised the question of whether certain Perth Amboy officials were affected by a vitiating conflict of interest, so as to preclude their consideration of proposed redevelopment plans. After that argument, we requested and received supplemental briefs on that question and issued an opinion dated November 8, 2001, in which we explained our determination to remand the matter to the trial court to determine whether plaintiff had established a prima facie case of such a conflict. The trial court was further directed to consider whether Landings at Harborside (Landings) should be permitted to intervene in this matter. We retained jurisdiction.

The trial court conducted a remand hearing and concluded that plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of a vitiating conflict of interest; it also ruled that Landings should be permitted to intervene. Pursuant to our retention of jurisdiction, the matter was reargued before us on March 5, 2002 after the remand to the trial court.

The essential facts of the matter were contained in our earlier opinion; we shall not restate them here. The questions presented are whether the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to the City of Perth Amboy in October 2000, and whether it erred in finding that plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of a vitiating conflict of interest. No party challenges on appeal the permission for Landings to intervene. We are satisfied the trial court was correct in both instances and thus affirm.

I.

The fundamental question presented is the timeliness of plaintiff's challenge to the redevelopment ordinance. In order to understand the nature of plaintiff's challenge to the summary judgment granted below, we must set forth some additional factual and procedural background not contained in our earlier opinion.

In November 1995, plaintiff signed a contract to purchase the property from the prior owner, Perth Amboy Dry Dock and, in 1996, it began to operate the facility under a lease while the parties worked out the necessary details to close title, including a number of environmental issues. Plaintiff remained in possession under that lease for nearly two years and finally took title on December 17, 1998. After taking title, plaintiff spent substantial sums to modernize and rejuvenate the shipyard.

Beginning in 1996, after plaintiff signed its contract to buy the property, Perth Amboy began to investigate ways in which it could redevelop and revitalize itself. In September 1996, the City Council authorized the Perth Amboy Planning Board to investigate the possibility of redeveloping certain areas under the Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 to -49. On April 18, 1997, after a series of public hearings, the Planning Board, acting pursuant to that authority, passed a resolution recommending that the City adopt a redevelopment plan captioned "Focus 2000." In May 1997, the City adopted an appropriate ordinance to that effect.

"Focus 2000" delineated three areas within Perth Amboy as areas in need of redevelopment; plaintiff's property is located within one of those areas known as East Area 2. On November 12, 1999, nearly two and one-half years after the plan was adopted, and nearly a year after it took title to the property, plaintiff filed its complaint in lieu of prerogative writs challenging its inclusion within East Area 2. Its complaint contained four counts. It contended that the plan adopted by Perth Amboy did not comply with certain provisions of the redevelopment statute, that it was void for vagueness, and that the actions of the City in adopting the plan and an accompanying ...


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