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Long Branch Mayor Says 'Justice Prevailed' In West End Zoning Lawsuit

LONG BRANCH: City Mayor Adam Schneider said last week that he is happy to see that "justice prevailed" and that the lawsuit which aimed to do away with the West End Overlay District zoning ordinance has been dismissed.

"There was a lawsuit that made some disgusting allegations," Schneider said during the Jan. 24 Long Branch Council meeting. "Allegations that I thought were irrelevant, sensational and made by people who were dishonest."

Scott Kelly, an attorney whose private law practice is located in West End, filed suit against Long Branch and the Long Branch Mayor and Council on June 17, 2015 in Monmouth County Superior Court. Kelly argued that the city's West End Overlay District zoning ordinance was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" and that the city used "spot zoning" by adopting the ordinance. The Long Branch Council passed the zoning amendment ordinance last year which now allows both institutional and residential uses on the second floor of retail buildings in a large area of West End.

Kelly also alleged that City Attorney James Aaron had financial ties to the West End theater, that Schneider failed to filed his campaign finance reports and that the mayor and council were swayed by campaign contributions from the Chabad Of The Shore group, which is looking to move forward on a mixed use project which includes retail on the first floor and religious uses on the second and third floors in West End.

Schneider said the claims were simply untrue and that Kelly was unable to prove any of them in court.

"Finally, justice prevailed and the court sanctioned Scott Kelly," Schneider said. "He cost the city over $75,000 in legal fees and never once tried to seriously litigate his case. He made allegations toward Mr. Aaron and myself that were not so vaguely criminal, and he got sanctioned."

Schneider said Kelly was ordered by the judge to pay the city $10,000 in restitution of legal fees.

"We may be out $60,000 on that case but we will collect our $10,000," Schneider said.

Resident Vincent Lepore, who has his own lawsuit against the city's planning board for approving the Chabad Of The Shore project, said he expects Kelly to appeal the decision.

"The local appellate division, we're on our way," LePore said. "There's no doubt in my mind that Scott Kelly will be appealing."

Kelly said he is still "up in the air" about whether or not he will appeal.

Ocean Township resident Patty Verrochi, who has advocated for the expansion of West End Park instead of the construction of the Chabad of the Shore project, spoke at the meeting and said that "games are being played in the court" because a motion to have testimony from Solomon Dwek concerning the lawsuit that was once ordered by the judge is no more. Dwek was arrested in 2006 on federal bank fraud charges.

Kelly said he was advised by Dwek that "at one time" he had given Schneider a $10,000 bribe to get a zoning change in the city.

"I asked Mr. Dwek whether it was his opinion if you can buy zoning variances in Long Branch and he replied in the affirmative," Kelly said. "He cited to me to a deposition he gave where he stated the same thing."

Kelly sad he was unable to obtain the deposition and ultimately dismissed his counts again Schneider and Aaron.

Verrochi said the expansion of the park will not be decided in court, but instead will be decided by the public in next year's election.

"A new mayor and council will be elected and all of you will be replaced," Verrochi said. "That new mayor and council will move on by expanding the West End Park and they will do so by, if necessary, exercising the powers of eminent domain. This is appropriate when using the eminent domain power for the public good."

Schneider said Verrochi's claims and those who fought to stop the passage of the West End Overlay District zoning ordinance are inaccurate.

"She's about as accurate with her prediction about what is going to happen next year as she was about the lawsuit," Schneider said. "The use of eminent domain is absurd, and the park was never at risk."

Read more from: Long Branch

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