2007-02-01 / Front Page

Court reinstates suit by Pulda housing objectors

Judges rule settlement was not reached between developer and NBR

Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK - A lawsuit filed by the North Brunswick Residents Against High-Density Housing (NBR) regarding the age-restricted community to be built on the former Pulda farm was reinstated by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division on Jan. 25.

The decision stems from an appeal filed by NBR opposing a March 24 order dismissing their complaint with prejudice and enforcing a settlement in regard to their Sept. 16, 2004, lawsuit, which claims that the 67-acre farm was rezoned improperly to accommodate an age-restricted complex instead of the original intention of using the land for low-density residential and recreational uses.

However, due to a lack of sufficient evidence, it is unclear if the nonprofit NBR and defendant Edgewood Properties, the contract purchaser at the time and the current owner of the site, had reached an agreement.

Since that time, according to the ruling, there were several disputes over whether or not the case was settled and what the actual terms of the agreement had been. NBR attorney Michele Donato claimed that "it would not be settled until [the parties] had a written stipulation and … had agreed upon the terms of the settlement in its entirety" but that "it [became] apparent that [the parties] had a significant misunderstanding as to what had been agreed to."

However, Edgewood attorney Doug Wolfson claimed the parties had in fact come to an agreement, including the payment of a confidential amount by Edgewood to NBR, the understanding that no statements would be made to the press outside of a joint press release and that both parties would abide by a mutual nondisparagement agreement. According to the appellate document, Wolfson said his records showed a settlement was reached on Sept. 13, 2005, and that additional settlement requests were not presented by Donato until the beginning of October.

"He argues that it was not until Oct. 6 or 7, 2005, that Donato advised him, for the first time, that even though the trustees of the corporation had voted to approve the settlement, the members of the corporation wanted to repudiate the settlement; they wanted a promise that [the] defendant would not petition for any more variances, and they wanted a 50 percent increase in the settlement payment," the document stated.

Yet Donato said she informed Wolfson that her client would likely have further requirements and that "while the dollar amount had been 'conceptual[ly]' approved, there was no agreement on the other conditions that her client had required."

According to the ruling, "the record is not sufficient to support a conclusion that the case was settled." Because Wolfson claims the matter was resolved in September but Donato asserts that she specified future agreements had to be resolved, "genuine issues of fact are in dispute that cannot be determined from the parties' certifications … [and] consequently, we vacate the order dismissing plaintiff's complaint and remand to the trial court to hold a plenary hearing to determine if the parties reached a settlement."

The decision also requests that the case be moved outside of Middlesex County due to Wolfson's former position as a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey assigned to Middlesex County. Although he resigned in 2002, the concern is that the hearing may be held before a judge with whom Wolfson had previously served, according to the ruling.

The Cascades at North Brunswick development was granted approval by the Planning Board on April 26, 2005. The farmland, located off Route 130 and Georges Road, was approved to be developed as 325 homes, including 131 single-family homes worth around $600,000 each, 114 condo flats around $250,000 each, and 80 townhouses around $425,000 each, as well as a clubhouse and other amenities.

Residents have continually expressed their concerns as to the affordability of the homes, traffic, pollution, accessibility to Farrington Lake, and the township's need for open space. Township officials said that there was no choice but to develop the land other than taking it by condemnation, because the property owners would not sell. They also said the project could generate $2.45 million for the local school district without adding school-age children, and there will also be a donation of $3,500 per unit for the township's Senior Building Fund.

Despite the ongoing legal disputes, the developer has the right to begin construction when he sees fit. However, if a settlement ensues, the developer must tear down any buildings he has already constructed.

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