The Committee to Stop Mahwah Mall’s decision to file a lawsuit against the Township of Mahwah Monday was based on “procedural rather than substantive” objections to the Crossroads Town Center development, said Michael Kates, the attorney representing the group of residents.
“What my clients object to is the way this was carried out," Kates said. "It should have been planning first then development interest, not the other way around.”
The suit addresses issues the group of residents has with a development plan for a shopping center near the Sheraton Hotel on Route 17. Mahwah’s town council to allow for a 750,000 sq.-foot development on the Crossroads property. The plan includes 600,000 square feet of retail space, a movie theater, restaurants, offices, another hotel and pedestrian areas.
The lawsuit, filed against the Township, Mayor, Town Council, Township Clerk, Crossroads Developers Associates and other involved parties, is based on three core complaints residents have with how the development plans were created, Kates said.
Residents' concerns include one of the ordinance’s what they say is non-compliance with the township’s master plan, an alleged conflict of interest on the part of Mayor John DaPuzzo, and the rejection of the group’s petition by the Township Clerk.
The residents allege DaPuzzo’s wife’s position as director of the Recreation Department clouds his objectiveness in regard to a recreational segment built into the development plan. The mayor, who was appointed to that position this March after the death of Richard Martel, was Town Council president when the ordinance changes were introduced.
“If the whole process had been done differently, originating with the planning board, having public hearings, it would be a different story,” Kates said.
“We are just a citizens’ group who is now getting more and more organized,” Mary Sullivan, a member of the CSMM, said.
“Two residents, Joey Bourgholtzer and Michael Richards, have spearheaded this whole thing,” Sullivan said.
“We started out as a group of about 10 people. We held a meeting two weeks ago, and 61 people showed up, volunteering their services and writing checks. So, now we have a lawyer and filed a suit,” she said.
Richards, who said that he and several other citizens formed the anti-mall group in February after attending town council meetings, said, "Our ultimate goal is to have the ordinance nullified, and really to have this put to a non-binding referendum."
"This is just such a huge project that is going to affect everyone in the township, and I think the decision should take into account the opinions of residents."
Bourgholtzer added, "The community, as a whole, needs to consider all of it's parts. A project like this would have a major impact on certain sections of town, like West Mahwah and Stag Hill."
Sullivan said that the group now plans to move forward with both the suit and spreading its message to other township residents. Richards said that the group, which has already raised $5,000, will now start more organized fundraising efforts.
“It’s all volunteers working, and our next steps include sending out mailings,” Sullivan said.
Kates said that winning the case would mean the township would need to “start over, and do it right.”
This suit came a few days after the neighboring village of Suffern, NY, filed a lawsuit against the township for ignoring the impacts the mall might have on that town.
The Suffern lawsuit was the result of mounting concerns in that village about the impacts the mall would have on Mahwah’s New York neighbor.
According to a letter from Suffern Mayor Dagan LaCorte to DaPuzzo and the Town Council, dated March 30, Suffern’s concerns are based on the “conceptual plan” for the retail development provided by Crossroads Developers.
The letter is posted on the Suffern website.
“Traffic impact is of particular concern,” LaCorte said in the letter, because roads that intersect with or run through Suffern, like Franklin Turnpike, Route 202 and North Ramapo Ave., were not included in the preliminary traffic impact study. The study was completed by the Boswell McClave Engineering group, a Mahwah township consultant.
The village of Suffern commissioned a study by Frederick P. Clark Associates to “determine the impacts to the village of Suffern” from the then-proposed zoning ordinance changes, in March 2010.
Other concerns investigated by the study included the development’s coexistence with a pedestrian trail along the Ramapo River, which has been proposed by the Town of Ramapo, and possible flooding implications resulting from the increase in storm water flow off of impervious surfaces built into the mall’s plan.
Though approved by the Mahwah town council at a contentious March 31 meeting, the Crossroads Town Center’s plans still need to undergo additional review processes and studies, and be approved by the township’s planning board before they could come to fruition.