LACEY TOWNSHIP – A lawsuit is set to be filed and served on Lacey land use officials next week over the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s August, 2016 denial of a variance sought by a local business owner seeking to sell firearms, with the lawsuit alleging improper interference with the impartiality of the zoning board from Lacey Director Of Community Development Chris Reid, who was president of the Lacey Republican Club until the end of last year.
Small business owner Bill Malcolm’s battle with Lacey Township land use officials has moved from zoning board meetings to the courtroom, according to court documents obtained Friday afternoon.
Ocean County Politics is the first to have obtained a full copy of Malcolm’s suit, which has yet to be served on Lacey’s legal counsel. The Zoning Board of Adjustment is represented by attorney Thomas Gannon, Esq.
We previously chronicled Lacey’s zoning board meetings, where self-proclaimed 2nd Amendment advocates spoke in support of Malcolm’s quest to obtain a variance to sell firearms at his Route 9 storefront, which currently is only allowed to sell ammunition.
The six count complaint filed in Ocean County Superior Court by Malcolm’s attorney Stuart Platt alleges a violation of state land use laws and a deprivation of the business owner’s rights under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution by way of the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s refusal to grant a variance allowing him to sell firearms from his ammunition store.
Malcolm previously received approvals from state and federal regulatory authorities, but the only thing preventing him from selling guns has been the Lacey Township Zoning Board of Adjustment’s lack of willingness to vote in favor of his variance application.
Community Development Director Reid Accused Of “Improperly” Influencing Zoning Board Members To Vote No
In the lawsuit, Malcolm’s attorney mentioned Chris Reid, the township’s community development director and alleged that he played a role in orchestrating the denial.
Attorney Platt alleged “The record [of the zoning board hearing] contains unsworn testimony from one municipal official, namely Chris Reid, who knowingly, intentionally and purposefully persuaded the Board to deny the variance application through unsubstantiated assertions, interpretations and commentary.”
“Such actions on the part of Chris Reid improperly influenced the Board’s decision, improperly interfered with the independent decision-making of the Board and was otherwise unlawful,” the lawsuit said.
In court documents, Mr. Platt further contends that “…certain members of the Lacey Township Governing Body who were opposed to the Variance Application improperly communicated or attempted to improperly communicate with Board members or their professionals, either directly or indirectly through Chris Reid and others.”
This, Platt alleges, interfered with the neutrality of zoning board members, and amounted to the “usurpation” of the board’s authority by Reid.
Lacey Hired Former Republican Club President Reid After Things Went South With Mayor Amato In Berkeley
Before being hired in Lacey, Reid was the former administrator of nearby Berkeley Township. In late 2015, Reid had a falling out with Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato, which ended in the termination of his employment with Berkeley. Mayor Amato described Reid’s departure as a “mutual parting of the ways,” but Republican sources said at the time that Reid knew the writing was on the wall at the time he was set to leave Berkeley’s employ.
Shortly thereafter, the Lacey Township Committee hired Reid, a lawyer previously hired as Lacey’s public defender and former president of the Lacey Republican Club, as the new “director of community development” for the township, a post which was formerly occupied by a Lacey elected official’s in-law before he was replaced with Reid.
Jim LeTellier: Zoning Board May Be Opening Themselves To Litigation
Predictions made back in September by Lacey Zoning Board member Jim LeTellier are apparently coming true with the filing of this lawsuit.
Speaking as a private citizen at a meeting of the Lacey Township Committee, Mr. LeTellier offered criticism of the township’s handling of this application and the administration of its zoning requirements.
“There’s nothing more important than our constitutional freedoms and protections under the Bill of Rights,” LeTellier told the governing body.
LeTellier offered Lacey officials an analysis of several recent United States Supreme Court decisions and controlling precedents with respect to municipal regulation retail firearms establishments. He also offered comments relative to how the Supreme Court has applied the protections of the 2nd Amendment to state and local governments via the 14th Amendment.
“There needs to be a lot of thought, a lot of research, otherwise you’re going to face lawsuits on this matter,” he said.
“You have not only a constitutional right, but attached to that are secondary things, such as the sale of ammunition.”
LeTellier also said that the board’s decision was not in line with precedent set in approvals of variances for other Lacey firearms businesses within the same commercial zone, a topic which was discussed at length at previous zoning board meetings. “I don’t want to see us in litigation,” he said.
As we reported previously, at the Lacey Zoning Board meeting where the variance was denied, LeTellier clashed with fellow board member Colleen Bradley, who was among those leading the opposition to Malcolm’s variance application.
LeTellier’s remarks and the full lawsuit are both viewable below.
See the documents: