More and more citizens in New Jersey are standing up to bad municipal government decisions to approve more sprawl in the name of phony “redevelopment” — while handing developers sweetheart deals for ultra-high-profit projects that don’t belong in their towns.
Like the Clinton Township Community Coalition (CTCC) did in Clinton Township during the Windy Acres planning board approval process (and in later projects), these groups are organizing and hiring lawyers and filing lawsuits against their elected representatives.
(Clinton Township’s official but very spare “Windy Acres history” doesn’t mention a word about the CTCC or its legal actions against the mayor and council.)
Citizens sue their town
A recent action in Westfield, NJ provides a simple model for citizens opposing sprawl ordinances. Excerpts from an nj.com column:
Demanding a voice for citizens
The key here is that the Westfield lawsuit demands a citizen-friendly legal interpretation of what a planning board process should do — give a presumption of validity to concerns expressed by the public.
The suit demands that town officials “adequately consider” issues that planning board routinely brush aside:
- economic impact
- excess density
- parking costs
- environmental impacts
Planning board attorneys (representing towns) routinely interpret land-use law in the favor of the applicant developer — to avoid lawsuits from the developer.
“The lawsuit says that the plan continued to move forward despite inconsistencies with the town’s Master Plan and comments from residents about the plan’s questionable financial benefits, traffic, the cost of the parking decks, and other issues.”
“Despite numerous requests to study further the adverse impacts of the redevelopment plan, the governing body” adopted the ordinance, the lawsuit states.
These lawyers go overboard in their conservative advice to planning boards, zoning boards and municipal governments.
The result is approvals of bad projects which mayors and town councils justify by crying, “We had no choice!”
A new model to stop sprawl
There is always a choice. When Clinton Township made the wrong choices with Windy Acres and Pulte Homes, the CTCC — a group of citizens that grew to the thousands — made the choice to sue its own government.
Now Westfield citizens are doing the same. Their legal action may be the only good model for responsible citizens to use when their government runs out of control, powered by the questionable advice of lawyers who are terrified to go into a courtroom to defend the interests of a town and its citizens.
Would a town rather fight a pernicious developer, or get sued by its own citizens?