On July 6, 2021, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed an area in need of redevelopment determination made by the Township of West Orange. Partners Richard D. Trenk, Esq. and Mark Y. Moon, Esq. represented the Township in defense of its redevelopment designation for the existing library located at 46 Mt. Pleasant Avenue in the Township.
The library was built in 1959 with an addition in 1970. At the Township Council’s request, a planning study was performed by Susan Gruel, PP of Heyer Gruel finding that that the library was obsolete. Hearings were held before the Township Planning Board on March 6, 2019. The Planning Board recommended the designation and the Township Council adopted that determination.
Plaintiff Kevin Malanga filed an action in lieu of prerogative writ pursuant to New Jersey Court Rule 4:69-4. Plaintiff noted that in 2015, part of the brick façade collapsed. Plaintiff then claimed that because the façade was replaced the structure was no longer in a deleterious condition. He then contended that a determination to seek redevelopment status for the existing library was premised upon an attempt to avoid public bidding laws for the Township property. After various submissions, the Honorable Bridget Stecher, Judge of the Superior Court issued a written opinion upholding the Township’s determination. Plaintiff Malanga then appealed the Trial Court’s decision. The Appellate Division affirmed the Township and Trial Court determination in its entirety. and concurred with the trial court that the existing library structure met the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (“LRHL”) requirement for obsolescence.
The Appellate Court also highlighted evidence that showed that the Township’s desire for a new library was based upon the demand for more programs, the essential nature of the library services and desire to promote equity, education and sense of community. See Opinion at 7; citing to the Trial Court Opinion.
Plaintiff attempted to argue that the Township failed to meet the requirements of N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(d) because insufficient evidence existed as to the detriment to the “safety, health, morals or welfare of the community.” The Appellate Division found that: “Indeed by use of the disjunctive, “or”, the Judge correctly concluded a municipality “need not show that all of the conditions exist or that all of the determents exist.” The Appellate Division cited Merriam-Webster in stating that “obsolescence”, while not defined in the LRHL, is “the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete.” See Opinion at 12.
The designation of the existing library is also part of the Township’s efforts to meet its affordable housing requirements wherein a new 64 unit apartment house will be built at the Municipal Complex, a new 25,000 square foot library will be built on Executive Drive and the first ever 2 acre dog park in the Township will be constructed adjacent to Essex Green Shopping Center.
For further questions, please call Richard D. Trenk, Esq. (email@example.com) or Mark Y. Moon, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 973-533-1000.