Judge Holds Off Decision On Crossroads Hearing
Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver said he will make a decision after lawyers submit additional information, which they have three weeks to do
A Bergen County Superior Court Judge did not make a decision Friday afternoon on whether or not an ordinance allowing for the Crossroads Town Center shopping development is valid. Two cases – one filed by a group of residents against the township in an effort to invalidate the ordinance allowing for the retail development, and another filed by the Crossroads Developer, LLC against the township claiming an ordinance that repealed the allowance wasn’t valid – were heard Friday by Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver.
After hearing arguments and receiving written depositions and evidence, Carver gave lawyers three weeks to submit additional information. He said he will render decisions on both cases after the additional materials are submitted on October 12.
The Committee to Stop Mahwah Mall, represented by attorney Michael Kates, argued that Ordinance 1684, allowing for the Crossroads development, was invalid because former town council president John DaPuzzo voted to introduce it. Kates argued that because of a clause in the ordinance requiring recreation fields be incorporated into the development, under the direction of the township Recreation Commission, DaPuzzo’s “spousal interest” should have caused him to recuse himself from the vote. DaPuzzo’s wife, Dawn, is the township’s part-time Recreation Director.
Kates called the fact that DaPuzzo did not recuse himself from the ordinance vote an “ethical blind spot in Mahwah,” citing that DaPuzzo also voted on his wife’s salary, and the Recreation Department budget.
And, he said, DaPuzzo “cast the deciding [4-3] vote” that passed the ordinance.
Kates also argued that DaPuzzo’s judgment was “clouded” by large monetary donations the Crossroads Developers made to the Mahwah Schools Foundation, an organization he helped found.
Jim Jaworski, the attorney representing the developer, argued that Dawn DaPuzzo had no role in the creation of the Ordinance allowing for the development. Her responsibilities, he said, “are to schedule the use of the fields [in the township], and [to put on] what is happening [Saturday], Mahwah Day.” He also said the ordinance dictates the fields' designs are under the purview of the planning board, not the mayor and council.
In regard to the charitable donations, Jaworski argued ruling against the township on that count would discourage “community-minded people and volunteers” from running for public office, which he called a “chilling,” impact.
Township attorney Andy Fede added that Mahwah’s position is that there is “no conflict of interest. Many people in elected offices are involved in their communities, and the DaPuzzo’s are prime examples.”
The second case, questioning the validity of an ordinance repealing the first one, is based on the township council’s procedure in passing it, Jaworski argued. He said the ordinance was invalid because the council passed it within 20 days, and did not consult any experts in drafting it. The original ordinance took over a year to draft, he said.
He also questioned the timeline used to pass it. The council is required to get a recommendation on land use ordinances from the planning board before passing them. The council had a verbal recommendation from the board, but not a formal written resolution until 10 days after the council passed its new ordinance, Jaworski said.
Fede argued that the Planning Board followed proper and normal protocol in this case. Consulting with experts is not required and the recommendation voted on by the planning board was sufficient, he said. The developer “simply [has] a political disagreement” with the choice the council made, which Fede said is not grounds for invalidating the ordinance.