BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
An Essex County Superior judge has declined to issue a restraining order to block the demolition of the former Lackawanna Station train platforms.
A suit filed against the Montclair planning board and its chairman over the Lackawanna redevelopment, requesting a temporary restraint on the development and its memorialization by the planning board, was denied on Friday, April 5, by Judge Thomas R. Vena.
Historic train station preservation advocate Bruce Hain, a resident of Queens, N.Y., filed the complaint on March 6 against the Montclair Planning Board and its chairman, John Wynn, over the approval of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, which will ultimately result in the demolition of the train platforms. The developers, Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos., which formed HP Lackawanna Office and Lackawanna HPC, were not named in the complaint.
While planning board attorney Dennis Galvin asked the court for a postponement of the scheduled hearing stating that he would not be able to attend, the developer’s attorney, Tom Trautner, filed a letter with the court on April 4 stating they planned on attending and intended to file a motion to be named in the suit, but also requested the suit be dismissed altogether.
In the letter, Trautner stated they had just learned of the suit earlier in the week and that they intended to file a motion to intervene on the Lackawanna suit. He stated the suit was premature since the planning board had not memorialized its decision and that the complaint should be dismissed for failure to name the developers as parties in the suit.
“Without delving into the substance of [Hain’s] claims, the applicants [Pinnacle and Hampshire] further note that [Hain] fails to demonstrate irreparable harm will occur absent the entry of temporary restraints on Friday [April 5]. Along these lines, it is difficult to imagine how [Hain], a resident of Queens, N.Y., is affected by the actions of the Montclair Planning Board. This lack of standing to challenge the land use matter in question will become the subject of a motion to be pursued by the applicants [Pinnacle and Hampshire] at a later date,” wrote Trautner.
The suit sought an injunction on the complete or partial demolition of the train sheds, and requested the planning board not memorialize the plans until the court approves the injunction. It further asked that Hain’s comments to the planning board be entered into the record as a starting point toward a buildable plan and be studied by the board; that the board and township set up parameters that include protection of the train platforms which include a public process; and that others can join the lawsuit at a later date.
Galvin, whose firm was represented by Andrew J. Ball in his absence, also called the suit “premature” since the board had not yet voted on memorialization of the project. He stated the chairman should not be named in the suit since all board members are insulated from suits.
“Quasi-judicial officials acting within the scope of their official duties are absolutely immuned… Here, Chairman Wynn was clearly acting within his quasi-judicial office managing the meeting and its progress,” Galvin wrote.
The planning board gave its final approval on Feb. 15 for developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. to build 154 units of housing on the east side of the lot, as well as a supermarket, medical office and some retail on the site of the historic Lackawanna train station. Although the developers plan to keep some of the historical elements of the historically designated train plaza and refurbish the former Pathmark, which closed in 2015, they will be razing the mall that encases the train platforms to make more room for parking.
The redevelopment plan pitted historic preservationists, development proponents and residents in need of a supermarket against one another for over a year over 16 hearings.
“Believing it will be impossible to prove my standing to sue in accordance with the established doctrine of standing in New Jersey, I am seeking to annul the complaint and conclude the action at the earliest possible time,” said Hain after the dismissal. “I hope some way can be found to fight this thing.”
But a group of residents, preservationists and affected commercial entities could soon file their own suit asking a judge to stop the demolition of the platforms, said a source close to the issue.