Edison BOE will appeal lawsuit dismissal against township Zoning Board

EDISON – Edison’s Zoning Board of Adjustment’s approval of eight multi-family units at Harding Avenue and Oak Tree Road in March was the impetus for a lawsuit filed by the Board of Education in its many efforts to combat overcrowding in the school district.

On Aug. 7, a Middlesex County Superior Court judge dismissed the Board of Education’s (BOE) lawsuit against the zoning board and Markim Developers LLC, citing the board did not have a right to bring forward the lawsuit since the board is not an entity within a 200-foot radius of the development.

The board is appealing the Superior Court’s decision despite some residents’ and township officials’ concerns of frivolity, claiming it is essentially a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The court’s decision to dismiss the board’s challenge to the zoning board was wrong,” said BOE Attorney Roman Rivera, of Scarinci Hollenbeck LLC. “Boards of education should be permitted to challenge decisions of a zoning board which directly impact the students, parents and residents of Edison. We are confident that the erroneous decision will be overturned by the Appellate Court.”

The BOE President Jerry Shi said the board’s “primary concern is our students who continue to suffer due to overcrowding because of irresponsible real estate development in the township.

“The cost for our attorney to challenge the zoning board’s approval of this development was justified given that the zoning board’s incorrect assessment of the impact on the district,” he said.

The developers presented the impact as two students from the eight units. Shi said the impact is actually 12 students.

“The projected cost to the district for [the eight multi-family units] could be well over $180,000 per year to educate all the children that could come out of [the development] while the property tax the school will receive is only around $80,000,” he said. “There is a $100,000-plus difference per year. That’s just an annual number. As such, we plan to appeal this decision to protect not only the students in the Township of Edison but also all of our residents who have some of the highest taxes in the state. No one is talking about the impact on the residents who pay taxes in our town when we continually add more and more development without properly accounting for the cost to the school district. The zoning board should be ashamed of their decisions.”

Zoning Board Attorney Bhavini Tara Shah said the board prevailed in the lawsuit; however, she said due to a “politically-motivated” lawsuit, the Edison taxpayers lost.

Shah explained that township paid $7,775 in legal fees.

“While $11,247 was the total bill, Markim Developers LLC paid $3,472 for its share of those legal expenses,” she said. “So, including the BOE’s legal costs, taxpayers actually shelled out $24,475.”

Shah said when it comes to “our children’s education, every tax dollar should be used as wisely as possible.” She said the appeal is “may be throwing good taxpayers’ money after bad on needless legal fees.”

Overcrowding has reached a crisis level in the Edison Township School District, according to officials. The board currently is working with SSP Architects, Bridgewater, on a proposed referendum for Dec. 10 to address the overcrowding crisis.

The district has two high schools, four middle schools, nine elementary schools, one intermediate school, one primary school, and the operation of a preschool program.

The overcrowding needs in the district call for John P. Stevens High School to add 40 classrooms to fill in for the 1,000 seats the school is over capacity. Edison High School needs to add 23 classrooms. Also, the needs call for give or take 40 classrooms to be added to John Adams Middle School, James Madison Intermediate, and John Marshall and Lincoln elementary schools.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.