Citizens Group Fights To Raise Money, Awareness To 'Stop Mahwah Mall'
Legal process still in beginning stages, lawyer says
The Citizens To Stop The Mahwah Mall, currently a group of eight volunteers, is passionately working toward its goal of “nullifying” three ordinance changes that will allow for a 600,000 square-foot retail development on Route 17 – but it needs volunteers and monetary donations to move forward.
That was one of the messages of the update meeting the group held Tuesday night at the Doubletree Hotel on Route 17.
“We are really just trying to get a voice, and be heard by our government,” said resident Michael Richards, one of the group’s leaders.
CSMM filed a lawsuit against the township in mid-May, that lawyer Michael Kates called, “brand new, in a sense,” during his update on its status to the crowd.
The group, he said, is still waiting for a response from the township and developer, which will help determine its course of action. He called the suit an “essentially lengthy process,” explaining that his firm will have 450 days after these responses are filed to carry out a “discovery.”
During that time, Kates said his firm could take steps to determine how the ordinances evolved, take depositions, and consult its own planning expert to back up the claim that these ordinance changes qualify as “contract” or “spot” zoning. This claim supports one made in the lawsuit suggesting that though the changes are in line with the developer’s interests, they are not in line with the township’s master plan.
Kates explained the three core complaints addressed in the lawsuit, which was filed against the Township, Mayor, Town Council, Township Clerk, Crossroads Developers Associates and other involved parties.
The complaints include an alleged conflict of interest of Mayor DaPuzzo, whose wife’s position as director of the Recreation Department, they say, clouds his objectiveness in regard to a recreational segment built into the development plan, non-compliance with the township’s master plan, and the rejection of the group’s petition by the Township Clerk.
“Since January, I have gone before the Council three times asking for a non-binding referendum on the issue, and each time I was turned down,” Richards told the crowd.
According to Kates, “it could cost as high as $50,000 if this were to be fully litigated and including all of the professional experts we would need.”
Thus far, according to Richards, the group has raised $6,000.
Garnering support, in the forms of money and volunteers, was one of the main purposes of the update meeting. Leaders of the movement also asked the approximately 100 attendees to “spread the word. Tell your friends and neighbors.”
The meeting did result in multiple donations and about a dozen new volunteer sign-ups, according to Susan Chin, one of the group’s members.
The residents in attendance raised multiple concerns, including those about potential environmental, traffic, crime, property value, and public safety implications of the shopping center on both Mahwah and surrounding communities.
The crowd seemed happy to hear Richards say “we are backing the suit filed by Suffern, [NY] against the township about the mall that I understand is a strong suit.”
According to Kates, the judge in Hackensack may decide to consolidate the two separate cases, but the two were independently filed of one another.
Suffern filed its suit days before the CSMM filed, based on concerns that the potential effects of the shopping center on the NY neighbor were not considered.
Both suits were filed after the town council approved three zoning ordinance changes to allow for retail development on a plot of land previously zoned only for office space. Hundreds of residents, including many at Tuesday’s CSMM meeting, attended the March 31 town council meeting at which the ordinances changes were passed to voice their concerns.
“Everyone had a different pressure point,” about what made them anti-mall, Angelo Zappala, a group member, told the crowd.
“But the other issue here is that we were not heard by our government.”
That’s why the group is fighting to have a non-binding referendum asking for the public’s opinion on the development added to the November election ballot.
“There are about 15,000 registered voters in Mahwah, so we can make a difference,” Richards said.
The group is now planning several fundraising efforts, and is reaching out to potential supporters. The group can be contacted by emailing MahwahCrossroads@gmail.com.