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Deegan v. Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency

January 6, 2005

JOSEPH F. DEEGAN, JR.; MARY B. DEEGAN; GLAD TIDINGS ASSEMBLY OF GOD CHURCH; RAYMOND C. GRAHAM, PASTOR AND RUSSEL BEY, PLAINTIFFS, AND ROLAND A. WINTERS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PERTH AMBOY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY; CITY OF PERTH AMBOY; PERTH AMBOY PLANNING BOARD; AND KING PLAZA, LLC HOLMDEL, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-3426-02.

Before Judges Skillman, Collester and Grall.

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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued November 16, 2004

In 1997, the governing body of the City of Perth Amboy determined that a substantial portion of the City, including large tracts of industrially zoned property and portions of the downtown area, were in need of redevelopment pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 to -49. The governing body adopted a redevelopment plan for revitalization of this area and established the Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency (PARA) to implement the plan.

By a resolution adopted on May 28, 2002, PARA approved an agreement with King Plaza, LLC, for redevelopment of a portion of the redevelopment area. King Plaza's proposed project would consist of approximately 250 rental apartments, a supermarket, retail space, a walkway/park and parking facilities.

On June 26, 2002, plaintiffs, who are Perth Amboy property owners, filed this action which sought, among other things, a declaration that the May 28, 2002 resolution of PARA approving the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza was invalid. The complaint alleged that PARA had violated the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 to -21, by conducting part of the public meeting on the application at a different location than had been indicated in the public notice. The complaint also alleged that the redevelopment agreement was invalid because N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-11(a) and the ordinance establishing PARA provide that no more than two agency members may be officers or employees of the municipality, and five members of PARA were officers or employees of Perth Amboy when it approved the agreement.

After a turnover in PARA's membership that eliminated this alleged illegality in its composition, PARA held another public meeting on January 14, 2003 and again adopted a resolution approving the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza.

On February 5, 2003, the Perth Amboy Planning Board conducted a lengthy hearing on King Plaza's site plan application for the redevelopment project, following which the Board granted King Plaza both preliminary and final site plan approval. This approval was memorialized by a resolution adopted on March 5, 2003.

On February 27, 2003, plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint which alleged that the January 14, 2003 resolution of PARA ratifying approval of the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza was invalid because one member of PARA who voted for the resolution, Father Thomas Ryan, had an impermissible conflict of interest. This alleged conflict arose because Father Ryan had been a parish priest of a church that received substantial donations from the principal owner of King Plaza, and he had advocated approval of the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza, as a member of the public, at the first meeting. Plaintiffs' first amended complaint also challenged the Planning Board's approval of King Plaza's site plan application on various grounds, including that the Board had improperly limited objectors' participation at the hearing.

On March 3, 2003, PARA held another public meeting regarding the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza in which Father Ryan did not participate, and it once again adopted a resolution ratifying approval of the agreement.

On July 31, 2003, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint which alleged, among other things, that two new members of PARA who voted for the March 3, 2003 resolution had not"read the transcripts of the prior proceedings or review[ed] all of the underlying plans, documents and approvals," and consequently that approval was invalid.

The case was presented to the trial court based on transcripts of the proceedings before PARA and the Planning Board and stipulated facts. The trial court concluded in a written opinion that PARA's May 28, 2002 resolution approving the redevelopment agreement with King Plaza and the January 14, and March 3, 2003 resolutions ratifying that approval were all valid. The court also rejected plaintiffs' challenge to the Planning Board's approval of King Plaza's site plan application. Accordingly, the court entered final judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint.

Plaintiffs Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church, Raymond C. Graham and Roland A. Winters appealed from the dismissal of the complaint. Subsequent to the filing of appellants' brief, we granted a motion by the Church and Graham to withdraw as ...


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