Posted: Apr. 30, 2017 12:01 am
SUPERIOR COURT — The Lake Mohawk Country Club filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court asking a judge to nullify one vote on the Sparta Planning Board and declare that the club can go ahead with plans to improve its parking lot and set up a mechanism to charge the public for parking there for non-club activities.
The suit, filed Friday afternoon, asks that the vote of Jerard Murphy, a Township Council member who sits on the Planning Board, to be nullified, which would result in a 4-3 vote in favor of the club’s plans.
In a second count, the lawsuit asks for a declaratory judgment that the club, in asking to charge fees for non-members to park, does not change its use.
The law firm of Kelly and Ward filed the suit on behalf of the country club. It stems from a series of monthly public hearings before the Planning Board that began in September and culminated on March 1 with a 4-4 vote. Because of the tie vote, the motion to approve did not get a majority and therefore was defeated.
In planning board cases, there is no appeal to the board, so a lawsuit becomes the vehicle to raise objections.
Planning Board Attorney Tom Collins was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
Murphy, who was named individually, but in his public capacity, said, “I voted along the sentiment of the community.”
The lawsuit challenges Murphy’s vote based on what he said during the March 1 vote and quotes a transcript of his comments:
“Public officials are not required to give reasons for voting one way or another, but in the interest of transparency, I would like to have the public be, be made aware that the Economic Development Committee discussed this proposed plan and the overall effect it may have on the vitality of the business community. It’s one thing to try and defray the cost of providing accessory uses by exporting the burden associated with these services, but not necessarily at the expense of burning the business community and its customers and patrons. So I’m voting no.”
The lawsuit notes that there was no public objection during any of the four hearings to the club’s plans.
During the hearings, board Vice Chairman George Zacsek maintained the request constituted a change of use and should be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
According to the lawsuit, the other concerns raised by board members involved variances, which the club addressed to the point where none remained by the final vote, and the price to be charged to the public for parking in the lot.
The suit argues that the cost to park should not have been a legitimate subject for the Planning Board to consider.
The Lake Mohawk Country Club was formed in 1929 as an amenity to the homes being built around the man-made Lake Mohawk. The parking lot, located across West Shore Drive from the club’s clubhouse and the Boardwalk, has always been posted as a private parking lot and considered by the township as an…