Court Finds Against LumberYard Petitioners
The community group had its day in court, but Judge John T. Kelley disagreed with their arguments.
In state Superior Court in Camden on Monday, Judge John T. Kelley rejected legal arguments that the borough ordinances regarding the project should be subject to a ballot question.
Collingswood had sought a declaratory judgment in the case to hopefully curtail additional legal wrangling on the question.
“While I certainly can understand the concerns the petitioners have, there is a narrow issue before the court: whether these are subject to referendum," Kelley told plaintiffs Joseph Dinella, Robert Gittler and Nathalie Marquet.
The petitioners offered a variety of arguments in their challenge to the proposal, from a broad invocation of the state constitution (“all power is inherent in the people”) to case law hinging on the Faulkner and Walsh Acts (which describe rights of referendum in municipal government) to the argument that the borough government “did not educate the public that the redevelopment was not subject to remonstrance.”
“The New York-New Jersey statute where we have based our remonstrance states that we can’t question an ordinance except where other requirements are made by law,” Marquet said. “Normally exception ordinances are carved out.”
“It’s a burden on the taxpayer,” said Gittler.
Kelley said that under those challenges, the existing case law is principally the same: Local governments as elected have the right to issue ordinances that govern the people who elected them.
“At the end of the day, [the LumberYard] is a project that was adopted through the appropriate ordinances by the government of Collingswood,” Kelley said. He urged the petitioners and the interested parties they represent to make their changes “at the ballot box.
“It’s not the role of this court to go beyond the legal validity of these processes,” Kelley said.
Upon hearing news of the decision, Collingswood Mayor James Maley said that borough leadership hopes that this verdict “brings this chapter to an end.
“We’re glad that the judge agreed that it’s not permitted by state law,” Maley said. “It’s what we said since the moment it was raised at the meeting.”
Maley said that although the court found in favor of the borough, addressing the challenge still cost Collingswood money; exactly how much, he couldn’t say offhand.
Regardless, he said he is hopeful that today’s judgment will mark the end of further challenges to the redevelopment project.
“As I understand, [the petitioners] don’t disagree with our legal position; they just think the Constitution should allow it,” Maley said.
Calls to Dinella and Gittler seeking comment were not immediately returned Monday afternoon.