On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-250-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad, Payne and Messano.
Plaintiff, Silver Oak Properties, Inc., appeals from three orders dated January 8, 2007, that 1) denied its motion for summary judgment; 2) granted summary judgment to defendants, the Borough of Matawan, its elected officials, defendants Michael Cannon, Debra Buragina, Joseph Penniplede, Paul Buccellato, Donna Gould, and Sharon Roselli (collectively, Matawan); and 3) granted defendants K. Hovnanian Companies, Mack-Cali Realty Corporation, and the Columbia Group (collectively, the Columbia Group), summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. Plaintiff argues that Matawan's decision to designate the Columbia Group as the developer of its "train station project" was "arbitrary and capricious"; that the decision was "not supported by any factual findings"; that Matawan failed to comply with statutory requirements in designating the Columbia Group as the developer; and that the selection of the Columbia Group was as a result of improper political pressure. We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.
The Aberdeen-Matawan train station (the Station) is located on the border of Aberdeen Township and the Borough of Matawan. Both towns considered the area surrounding the Station to be underutilized and otherwise eligible for redevelopment pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL), N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 to -73. Aberdeen designated a 59.5 acre area surrounding the Station as a redevelopment area in 1999, and Matawan followed suit on July 5, 2000, designating 44.23 acres of land surrounding the Station for its redevelopment.
Each town initially hired its own consultant to formulate a redevelopment plan for the area within its respective border. Aberdeen hired Coppola & Coppola Associates (Coppola), a municipal planning firm, which formulated a plan that emphasized retail and commercial development that Aberdeen believed would increase its tax revenues, diversify its tax base, and stimulate the local economy. Aberdeen's plan included a residential component of 291 luxury apartments to be built by plaintiff pursuant to approvals secured prior to adoption of the redevelopment plan, as well commercial and retail space.
Matawan hired THP, Inc. (THP) to prepare its plan and also created a "Mayor's Task Force" to solicit public input and serve as liaison to the governing body. Matawan's plan called for a mixed-use development consisting of mid-rise apartments or townhouses, office and retail space, a hotel, and open space for recreation. Both municipal plans noted a concern for increased residential development given the already overburdened joint school district.
Matawan and Aberdeen soon recognized that their redevelopment goals might be more easily accomplished if they worked in concert. Therefore, in contemplation of a cooperative redevelopment effort, they entered into an interlocal services agreement, pursuant to the Interlocal Services Act, N.J.S.A. 40:8A-1 to -11. The agreement created a joint management committee (JMC) to "coordinate planning, development and implementation of the Aberdeen/Matawan Plan, the Aberdeen Plan, and the Matawan Plan," consisting of three members from each municipality. The JMC was also charged with the task of formulating a request for proposals (RFP), receiving and reviewing those responses, and ultimately recommending a developer to the governing bodies of Aberdeen and Matawan for final approval. Aberdeen was designated the "lead agency" for the project.
Although the municipalities intended to cooperate in their redevelopment efforts, their agreement recognized that they might not agree upon a unified redevelopment plan or upon a single redeveloper for the project. The agreement stated, "[T]he parties  agree that each party shall have ultimate control over the selection of development uses and developers to implement the overall Aberdeen/Matawan Plan, the Aberdeen Plan and the Matawan Plan as it relates to its respective municipality." Under the agreement, the JMC would select and make a non-binding recommendation to each municipality regarding a designated developer. Each municipality was able to terminate the agreement by not agreeing to the JMC's recommendations, or upon ninety days' written notice.
The JMC hired Coppola to prepare a combined plan for the Station's redevelopment that incorporated the two municipal plans. The JMC issued an RFP seeking developers to submit proposals consistent with the combined plan and each of the individual municipal plans. Each respondent was advised to consider the possibility that [Aberdeen and Matawan] may not agree with the selection and recommendations of the JMC . . . and the Interlocal Services Agreement and this RFP provides for [Matawan] to select and negotiate directly with any Respondent for the redevelopment of the Matawan Parcels located in the Matawan Redevelopment Area.
The developer or developers chosen would be designated to negotiate a redevelopment agreement with the municipalities, and would have the exclusive right to negotiate for a period of 120 days.
Five developers submitted proposals, the JMC conducted interviews with all five, and plaintiff and the Columbia Group survived the interview process. The JMC asked Coppola to review the two competing proposals against the redevelopment plans adopted. The Columbia Group's proposal contained more residential development, and less commercial and retail development, than called for in the redevelopment plan. Plaintiff's proposal also ...