FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A property owner in Colts Neck has taken legal action following a decision by municipal officials in Freehold Township to deny a request to provide public water and sewer service to the property.
Freehold Township’s elected representatives have responded to the property owner’s complaint by initiating legal action against Colts Neck.
A complaint was filed on Sept. 11 by Colts Neck Building Associates, LLC, in state Superior Court. The plaintiff owns property on Route 537 in Colts Neck that is planned to be developed with as many as 360 residential units, included 72 units to be designated as affordable housing.
Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines. Like other municipalities in the state, Colts Neck is mandated to provide affordable housing within its borders.
Named as defendants in the property owner’s complaint are the Manasquan River Regional Sewage Authority (MRRSA); the five member municipalities of the MRRSA (Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell and Wall Township); and the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders.
In response to the complaint, the Township Committee in Freehold Township has authorized a defense against the allegations. An answer to the complaint was filed by representatives of Freehold Township on Oct. 28.
Colts Neck Building Associates is seeking to obtain public sewer and water service for its property in Colts Neck through Freehold Township. Colts Neck does not provide public sewer or water service.
Colts Neck Building Associates requested access to Freehold Township’s sewer and water systems because Freehold Township is near the site in Colts Neck where the housing is proposed to be constructed. Those requests were denied by Freehold Township in 2018.
The developer also made an application to the MRRSA for sewer service, but that request was rejected by the authority this year, according to the complaint.
In its complaint, Colts Neck Building Associates allege the members of the MRRSA have sufficient sewer capacity allocation to service the site in question.
The complaint alleges that by denying sewer and water access to the property, the defendants are wrongfully and intentionally frustrating Colts Neck’s affordable housing obligation.
“(The) defendants’ failure to act accordingly has wrongfully and intentionally impeded the development of an inclusionary (affordable housing) development on the property,” the complaint states.
Colts Neck Building Associates is demanding that a court compel Freehold Township to consent to or provide public water service to the property, and that all of the MRRSA member municipalities consent to have the authority provide sewer service to the property.
The developer is also demanding a court compel the MRRSA to take necessary actions in obtaining Ocean County Utilities Authority (OCUA) approval for the property and the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders to take necessary actions in permitting sewage to flow from the property through Freehold Township.
The plaintiff alleges Freehold Township’s conduct has violated its obligation to facilitate the development of affordable housing because the denials have made it impossible for the developer to obtain or apply for site plan/subdivision approval of the property and for Colts Neck to comply with its affordable housing obligation.
Freehold Township’s answer denies any wrongdoing and seeks the dismissal of the developer’s complaint.
Freehold Township argues the complaint fails to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted, that the township acted in good faith, and that any damages are barred by state statute.
The municipality’s answer also alleges the developer’s claims were not caused by Freehold Township, but were caused by Colts Neck. Freehold Township claims the legal case cannot proceed without Colts Neck, which was not named as a party in the complaint.
Freehold Township’s answer states that Colts Neck made the Route 537 property’s development impossible by failing to provide water and sewer infrastructure, but requiring the developer to obtain public water and sewer service from other municipalities under the guise of providing a realistic opportunity for the development of affordable housing.
“Colts Neck has failed to comply with its (affordable housing) obligation by foisting its responsibilities upon other municipalities in clear derogation of its fair share obligation,” Freehold Township’s representatives said in their answer to the developer’s complaint.
“It provides no framework for the meeting of its obligations other than to zone properties along adjacent municipalities, irrespective of existing on-site treatment plants in other areas of Colts Neck,” they wrote.
Freehold Township has filed a complaint against Colts Neck and claims it (Freehold Township) will be harmed in meeting its own affordable housing obligation if it also must provide resources to another municipality.
Freehold Township asserts that connecting the Route 537 property in Colts Neck and other parcels in Colts Neck for public sewage would require $34 million to $37 million in improvements to the MRRSA and OCUA, and $4 million in improvements to Freehold Township’s system.
The complaint against Colts Neck states that Freehold Township is operating under a water permit that restricts its ability to provide water to facilities outside its jurisdiction.
The municipality’s complaint demands a court declare that Colts Neck has no right to use the services of Freehold Township’s property.
If Colts Neck has the right to convey sewage from Freehold Township and the MRRSA, Colts Neck must pay the total cost of any upgrades to those systems to accommodate the needs of the developer and its affordable housing plan, Freehold Township’s representatives assert in the complaint.