230-232 FORT DIX STREET, WRIGHTSTOWN, NEW JERSEY, Petitioner-Appellant,
BOROUGH OF WRIGHTSTOWN, Respondent-Respondent. ELIAS L. SCHNEIDER, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF ANNA SCHNEIDER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW R. ROSEN and WRIGHT CLEANERS, Defendants-Appellants, and BOROUGH OF WRIGHTSTOWN, Defendant/Intervenor-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 16, 2013
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Docket No. OCA-407-10 and from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-1063-07.
Louis Giansante argued the cause for appellants (Giansante & Assoc., LLC, attorneys; Mr. Giansante, of counsel and on the briefs).
Nicholas J. Costa argued the cause for respondent (Costa, Vetra, LaRose & Costa, attorneys; Mr. Costa, of counsel and on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent Department of Community Affairs (Debra A. Allen, Deputy Attorney General, on the statement in lieu of brief).
Before Judges Simonelli, Koblitz and Accurso.
This appeal arises out of a redevelopment plan adopted by the Borough of Wrightstown (Wrightstown or the Borough) in 1999. Defendant Andrew R. Rosen, the owner of Wright Cleaners, a business affected by the plan, appeals from final orders entered by the Law Division and the Department of Community Affairs (the Department) dismissing his claims relating to the redevelopment plan and denying him relocation benefits. We affirm.
Rosen operated Wright Cleaners from 1969 until he was ejected from the premises by order of the Law Division in 2007. The business was located just outside the main gate of Fort Dix and catered to military personnel working on the base. Rosen did not own the building housing the business, but leased the premises from owner Anna Schneider and later her estate. At the time of the events at issue, Rosen was a holdover tenant in a month-to-month tenancy pursuant to a triple net lease that expired in 1985.
Wrightstown enacted the ordinance adopting its redevelopment plan in 1999. The plan provided that the Borough Council would serve as the redevelopment agency and that it would contract with an outside agency to provide relocation assistance to residents displaced by the redevelopment. In October 2003, the Borough wrote to Rosen to advise that it intended to acquire his leasehold, and that if his business were displaced as a result of the project, he would be eligible for relocation benefits under the Relocation Assistance Act, N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 to -22 (the Relocation Act). Enclosed within the letter was a brochure summarizing the relocation benefits available, a "Business Site Survey, " which Rosen was required to complete, and the name and phone number of a representative of the Borough's Community Development Consultant, Triad Associates, (Triad) who could assist Rosen in completing the survey and answer any questions he had about relocation assistance.
Over the next three and one-half years, the Borough and Triad undertook numerous efforts to assist Rosen in finding a new location for Wright Cleaners. Triad referred him to four realtors, several landlords, and identified at least six potential relocation sites within the Borough, including one across the street from Wright Cleaners. Triad met with the Borough to explore a variance for a vacant property Rosen expressed an interest in renting and provided Rosen with demographic information on neighboring towns. Representatives of Triad and the Borough met with Rosen several times to discuss relocation assistance and once accompanied him on a site visit to view four available properties within the Borough.
Rosen never identified a new location for his business, and Wright Cleaners never relocated. Instead, in April 2007 Rosen's landlord, the Schneider Estate, finalized the sale of the premises to the Borough and served Rosen with a notice terminating his tenancy effective May 31, 2007. Two weeks prior to the scheduled end of Rosen's tenancy, however, Borough officials inspected the property and discovered the building to be in such a dilapidated condition that it was declared unsafe and Rosen directed to vacate immediately. The inspection revealed that the rafters and roof sheathing were rotting, structural support headers missing, the rear wall deteriorating, and that exposed wiring and junction boxes were present throughout the building. The Borough's engineer concluded that the roof and interior and exterior block walls were so severely damaged that all were in danger of imminent collapse. Rosen's own engineer confirmed those findings and agreed that the rear of the structure, which housed the business's laundry operations, should be closed off and not re-entered until repairs were made.
The Borough intervened in the Schneider Estate's ejectment action against Rosen and sought to immediately bar all persons from the premises. After reviewing the parties' reports on the building's condition and hearing oral argument, the Law Division entered an order on May 31, 2007 directing that Rosen immediately cease doing business in the premises. Rosen was allowed until 4:00 p.m. the following day to remove his customers' clothing. The ...