BY TALI ISRAELI
MARLBORO – The attorneys who are disputing the status of a housing development application that was submitted to the Planning Board both believe they will prevail if the case has to be battled out in court.
The news of preliminary approval to construct 19 homes on Buckley Road surprised Planning Board members in February because the applicant never appeared before the board for a hearing.
Since then it has been a game of he said, he said between Planning Board attorney Dennis Collins and attorney Wayne Peck, who represents the applicant, Sunny Acres.
Collins and Peck both said last week that they believe their actions will stand up in court.
According to Peck, his clients received preliminary approval for their site plan by default because the board failed to take action on the application within the required 120 days of the date when the application was deemed to be complete. The application was deemed to be complete on Sept. 23, 2005.
Peck’s clients, the principals in a Holmdel-based company called Sunny Acres, include Steven Meiterman, Gloria Meiterman, Eddie Kay, Terry Sherman and Domenica Russo.
According to Collins, Peck’s clients stalled the process of scheduling a hearing before the board. He said the applicant, through its engineer, indicated that it did not want a hearing scheduled until revised plans for the proposed housing development had been completed and reviewed by the board’s engineer.
According to Collins, the revised plans were submitted on Dec. 30 and an engineer’s report usually takes one month to complete.
Because the application to construct the development of 19 homes on 2-acre lots was deemed complete on Sept. 23, the board had until Jan. 20 to vote on it.
Collins noted that although the plans were technically complete from a submission requirement as of Sept. 23, they were not ready for a hearing upon the applicant’s own request. If an applicant asks the board not to schedule a hearing, that request is complied with, he added.
“For them to take the position of [receiving] default approval is disingenuous at best,” Collins said. “We did what they asked us to do.”
When asked to confirm this information, Peck said it is “factually incorrect and legally an absurdity. The scheduling of a hearing is 100 percent within the control of the municipality. If that’s the position the municipality is planning to take to justify its failure [to act on the application] then I anxiously await what evidence they have.”
Collins said although it is within the
control of the board to schedule a hearing, there has to be a cooperative effort between the board and the applicant when doing so because the applicant’s professionals have to be available, the public has to be notified and their plans have to be prepared.
Collins said he believes the February letter Peck sent to residents who live near the project site to inform them of the preliminary approval was done in order to embarrass the board and to make a political issue out of the situation.
Planning Board Chairman Peter Bellone said he is not sure if Sunny Acres was playing games with the board.
“Mr. Peck and Mr. Meiterman (Bernard Meiterman, the applicant’s original attorney) are both competent, bright attorneys … My gut feeling is it was an attempt to manipulate the system,” he added.
Bellone said the application was almost fully conforming with municipal land use law and only requested relief from one requirement (an undersized lot on which a detention basin would be created). The chairman said he believes the applicants felt they would not have received a fair hearing by the board because of who the clients included.
Collins agreed and said, “The people that are involved in the application create some interest but they weren’t asking for the moon.”
When disclosure forms for the application were submitted in November 2004, the principals of Sunny Acres were listed as Steven Meiterman, with a 16 percent stake; Gloria Meiterman, with a 16 percent stake; Kay, with a 16 percent stake; Sherman, with a 25 percent stake; and Anthony Spalliero, with a 25 percent stake.
A revised disclosure form which was submitted in January 2006 replaced Spalliero’s name with Russo, who is known to be Spalliero’s ex-wife. The same Holmdel address was listed on the forms for Russo and Spalliero. The revised documents state that Russo has a 20 percent stake in the company; the holder of the remaining 5 percent has not been listed.
Bellone said, “It’s sad that they feel they can’t get a fair shake … [The Planning Board members] are a bunch of regular people, we’re not politicians … I’m [on the board] just to apply what’s best for the town … It would look very capricious if we said no because of Mr. Meiterman and Mr. Spalliero.”
Spalliero has been tied to bribes admittedly accepted by former mayor Matthew Scannapieco and he was recently indicted for allegedly assaulting a young woman in a car at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft.
The Meitermans have been involved in several development applications in Marlboro. The Freehold offices of Steven and Bernard Meiterman were recently raided by state police and agents of the IRS and FBI. Their involvement with the Sunny Acres application, however, predates that raid.
Sherman is a business associate of Spalliero in numerous development ventures.
Kleinberg said that if Spalliero, the Meitermans or anyone else came before the board with an application, “we would give them a fair hearing just like any other applicant, with residents’ participation which is an essential part of the process.”
In assessing the situation, Collins said he believes the applicants are acting dishonestly.
“Based upon their actions, I can’t conclude otherwise [except] that they were intentionally misleading the board’s administrative officer … I’m absolutely certain that no court will uphold these dishonest acts,” he added.
Collins noted that in order for a court to uphold the default approval Peck claims Sunny Acres has received, the applicant would have to prove the board was acting in bad faith or purposely delayed taking action.
“How could they show that we were acting in bad faith if we were calling them to schedule a hearing?” Collins asked.
On April 17, Peck filed an application with the board for the proposed project to be granted final site plan approval. Peck said Collins called him on April 18 to notify him that the application would be on the board’s agenda on April 19.
According to Collins, Peck said he would not appear before the board because he did not want anything on the record that would affect his clients.
Bellone said the board denied final site plan approval on April 19 because no representatives from Sunny Acres came to the meeting to make their case.
Peck said the preliminary approval he claims the Sunny Acres application has received would allow his clients to begin site work on the property, but, “my clients haven’t indicated to me it’s their plan to do so.”
Since news of the claimed default approval became public last week, the situation has evolved into a political issue. In a press release dated April 26, Steve Sukel, chairman of the Reformed Democratic Club of Marlboro, and club members Jon Hornik and Steve Glickman have called for an investigation into the board.
The three also called on Kleinberg to clean up his administration by demanding the immediate resignation of Collins.
“For too long Matt Scannapieco and his hand-picked Planning Board found ways to justify approvals in order to grant development rights to Anthony Spalliero. Not one person successfully challenged or questioned those approvals. Now, in 2006, we find ourselves with the same Planning Board attorney that served Scannapieco, and a new Spalliero application which has been approved under suspicious circumstances,” Hornik said in a prepared statement.
Hornik called the situation of granting approval to the Sunny Acres application without a public hearing “simply unethical and unacceptable.”
Sukel noted that all the board had to do to avoid this situation was to convene and request that the applicant either present its case on a given date or sign a waiver for an extension of time.
“If the applicant refused, then the board would have adequate grounds to vote no on the application on the spot and the issue would be over,” Sukel added.
Hornik said although the situation could be an innocent mistake, given the history of corruption in Marlboro, the situation should not go unnoticed.
“At best it’s negligent to the board, at worst there are ties going on here,” he added.
Kleinberg said he believes anyone who suggests that there is any wrongdoing on behalf of the Planning Board is obviously an advocate for Spalliero and Meiterman and wants to see them get an approval for this application.
Glickman said, “There’s no accusations here, but when there’s smoke sometimes there’s fire and we can’t let smoke go uninvestigated.”