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Oral arguments scheduled in appeal of Manalapan crematorium ruling

MANALAPAN – The 5-year-old story of a proposed crematorium in Manalapan has not concluded.

According to a recent letter from attorney Ron Cucchiaro, who represents the Manalapan Planning Board, to the board, “As many of you may recall, the board denied the application seeking site plan approval to permit construction of a crematorium without prejudice because the applicant asserted that the use was pre-existing non-conforming and had vested constitutional rights.

“The board determined that exclusive jurisdiction to certify the alleged non-conforming status was vested with the township Zoning Board of Adjustment. The (state) Superior Court issued a written opinion dated Feb. 18, 2020 affirming the board’s decision. The applicant then appealed. The Appellate Division has now scheduled oral argument on Sept. 30, 2021. I will keep the board updated on all progress,” Cucciaro wrote.

The upcoming Sept. 30 court date is the latest development in a case that dates back five years, to when the Old Tennent Cemetery Association proposed constructing a 1,300-square-foot addition on an existing office building on the cemetery grounds on Tennent Road and installing two retorts (furnaces) that could conduct hundreds of cremations per year.

The crematorium application was before the Planning Board on July 28, 2016, but before testimony was heard, attorney Edward Liston, representing the cemetery association, and an attorney representing Stop the Manalapan Crematorium Inc., which was objecting to the proposal, argued technical points related to the project, including which municipal board should consider the application.

Acting on the advice of Cucchiaro, the Planning Board members determined they did not have jurisdiction to hear the crematorium application and adjourned the meeting.

Following the board’s action, the Old Tennent Cemetery Association filed a legal complaint against the Planning Board in state Superior Court. The township subsequently became a defendant-intervenor in the matter.

In October 2017, Liston, Cucchiaro, and attorney Jason A. Leacock, representing Manalapan, presented oral arguments in Superior Court regarding legal issues involved with the cemetery association’s proposal to construct the crematorium on the cemetery grounds.

More than two years later, on Feb. 18, 2020, the cemetery association’s complaint was dismissed by state Superior Court Judge Lisa P. Thornton, sitting in Freehold.

In her decision, Thorton wrote that the cemetery association challenged the Planning Board’s decision “that it was without jurisdiction to consider plaintiff’s application for site plan approval to construct a crematorium on the site of an existing cemetery.”

“Evidence in the record indicates Old Tennent Cemetery is a nonconforming use, not a permitted use. Consequently, the (Zoning) Board of Adjustment has exclusive jurisdiction to consider the application. Because the (Planning) Board was without jurisdiction to consider the application, plaintiff’s complaint is dismissed,” Thornton wrote.

The Old Tennent Cemetery Association appealed Thornton’s ruling and the appeal will be heard on Sept. 30, according to Cucchiaro’s recent letter to the Planning Board.

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