A New Jersey Superior Court judge has ruled that the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders must consider local activists’ appeal of a decision to approve the development of three stores on the Palisade hills on River Road. In the meantime, construction can continue.
On Feb. 19 New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mark Baber decided that the freeholders were legally obligated to either hold a hearing or make a further decision on the appeal by the project’s opponents.
The project’s developers would like to build three stores there – a Walgreen's, a Bank of America, and a coffee shop.
“Once an appeal is filed, it is mandatory for the freeholders to address it.” – Judge Mark Baber
A week ago, Judge Baber said that the freeholders had a responsibility to either render a decision on the appeal, reject it, or remand it to the Hudson County Planning Board, which had approved the controversial project on June 17. The Planning Board had granted a hardship variance to the developers, Avak Properties and U&G Development.
Baber said that after the Coalition to Preserve the Palisades requested a public hearing with the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders as an aggrieved party to the board’s decision, the freeholders did nothing, not even passing a resolution to reject their hearing, which he said they were obligated to do under state law.
During the hearing Joseph Basralian, an attorney representing the developers, argued that the CPPC should have filed an appeal with the county Planning Board instead.
But Baber said, “Once an appeal is filed, it is mandatory for the freeholders to address it.”
Project not stopped
Around 25 members of the public attended the hearing, mostly supporters of the CPPC.
A lawsuit was filed by the CPPC on Oct.15, 2009 against the developers, the Hudson County Planning Board, and the Chosen Freeholders. The CPPC is being represented pro bono by Susan J. Kraham, Esq. and Edward Lloyd, Esq. of the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic, as well as Renee Steinhagen, Esq. of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center.
During the hearing Kraham said that there were no “findings of fact” for the Planning Board, or for the freeholders to deduce a decision from.
Avak Properties and U&G Development’s plan to build a Walgreens, Bank of America, and coffee shop will remove 105,000 cubic yards of soil and rock from the base of the cliff, located across from the Palisades Medical Center.
The group recently asked for a halt to construction of the project, but Baber denied the request.
Steinhagen said that while they would have liked the judge to render a decision on their counts that alleged the project went against county and state steep slope regulations, Baber ruled “very narrowly” according to law.
Baber said that the freeholders have 45 days from the date of his hearing consider the appeal, and then 30 days to render a decision.
CPPC President Peggy Wong said that she hopes the freeholders schedule a hearing “fastidiously.”
Helen Manouge, a CPPC member and local activist, said that last year she had a meeting with the freeholders for a different issue and that they asked her what the Coalition expected them to do in regards of the Palisades development.
“A part of what was going on was the arrogance of public officials,” said Steinhagen.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.