LAKEWOOD – A lawsuit seeking an injunction against development planned at the site of the Eagle Ridge golf course has claimed that Lakewood suffers from “widespread corruption,” according to court papers filed in the case.
Lavallette attorney Michele Donato, Esq. has filed an application for an injunction seeking to invalidate Lakewood’s master plan and amendments to the township’s development ordinances, the latest development in litigation concerning the Eagle Ridge project.
Donato is representing the Fairways and Horizons homeowners associations as well as the Lakewood Senior Action Group (SAG). The injunction application was only submitted on behalf of Fairways due to time constraints in securing approval from the other parties to the case.
They are seeking to challenge a developer’s plan to build over 1000 homes on the site of the Eagle Ridge golf course in the township.
The highly controversial development plan – which calls for 556 residential units, 278 duplexes, 4 community centers, a shopping center and multiple parks – has been the subject of hours-long public hearings and outcries from residents. The NJDEP rejected permits for the plan in 2017, citing among other things, a lack of compliance with stormwater & impervious coverage regulations.
Now the developers are taking a second bite at the apple, rebranding the proposal as “The Parke.”
The court paperwork, filed Monday afternoon in Ocean County Superior Court, makes a number of accusations against Lakewood officials for their handling of the project, citing conflicts of interest.
Attorney: Committeeman Lichtenstein Voted on Land Use Ordinance Despite Conflicts
Donato wants a judge to put the brakes on the development application because of conflicts of interest by Lakewood officials who she says have financial ties to the developer, GDMS Holdings, namely Lakewood Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein.
“For the purposes of this request for a preliminary injunction, Fairways notes the egregious fact that Councilman Meir Lichtensein lobbied for and voted on Ordinance 2017-51 despite a well-known conflict of interest on his part due to financial relationships with some or all of the principals in GDMS Holdings,” Donato wrote in court filings.admin-6276-ORDINANCE-Amending-UDO-Per-Master-Plan-Adopted-version-11-08-17
“Ordinance 2017-51 destroys the Fairways ACP and is the result of conflict of interest. Plaintiffs were preparing to conduct depositions of Councilman Lichtenstein and to move to invalidate Ordinance 2017-51 due to conflict of interest,” Donato wrote. She said that he was planning to file a motion to invalidate the ordinance after the deposition.
“There is substantial public knowledge of this conflict and Councilman Lichtenstein previously recused himself from voting on matters that would benefit the interests of the principals of GDMS.
Developer Has Deep Ties to State Senator Singer
GDMS Holdings is also deeply tied to 30th District State Senator Bob Singer (R – Island Heights). A report by the website JLeaks (linked in the tweet below) has claimed that Singer received a “house-warming gift” on the day that the property closed.
“On the same day that Eagle Ridge closed, Kokes and Mizrachi gave away the house that Senator Singer lives in- 1463 Massachusetts Ave for a very cheap price,” the JLeaks.com report read. “It was given to the LLC that currently owns the house. The registered agent of the LLC is no other than Adam Pfeffer Esq. Both GDMS and Mr Kokes from Eagle Ridge were the owners of the home,”the website’s publisher wrote.
In 2017, Senator Singer’s unsuccessful Democratic challenger, Amy Cores, criticized the senator and former Lakewood mayor over his silence on the controversial development proposal and ties to the developer.
“Senator Singer has not expressed any significant opposition to this project. Why would he?” Cores questioned at the time. “He received income from the Kokes Organization and uses a residence owned by GDMS Holdings to maintain a ‘residence’ in the district. In other words, he is in the pocket of the largest developers in Lakewood. Yet he sold his home and moved to Island Heights a few years ago.”
“Glaring Misrepresentations” By Lakewood Developer’s Lawyers”
Attorney Donato is also claiming that attorneys representing the developers have been making misrepresentations about the impact of the project and zoning issues at play in the case.
GDMS also does business as Augusta Holdings, according to the court files. In another case, Augusta also sought to invalidate the ordinance at issue. Donato claimed that the developer’s attorney failed to disclose the related litigation.
“In reviewing the Augusta Holdings, LLC. complaint, I noted some glaring misrepresentations about density, land use history and the legal basis of the challenge,” Donato wrote.
“Suffice it to state that after practicing land use law for over forty years, I have never encountered such an underhanded, surreptitious and devious approach to the entire controversy doctrine to undermine a matter litigated in another case.”
“It is common knowledge that Lakewood suffers from widespread corruption,” Donato concluded in her injunction application. “At the least, the GDP application should not proceed until the conflict issue is resolved.”
Donato is far from the only one crying foul over the project. The proposal was also blasted by the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel in a press release.
“Lakewood Township must reject this terrible project. It will only lead to more traffic, flooding, and runoff pollution. We cannot be over-developing in flood prone areas. Ocean County needs another big development like they need another Superfund Site,” he said.
“We fought the Eagle Ridge development project in 2017 and won. We will keep on fighting this horrible project. It’s critical for Lakewood Council to side with clean sound planning, clean water, and reject this massive sprawl project.”
The Lakewood Township Planning Board is set to hold a public hearing on the developer’s application on Tuesday, February 5th at 6 PM.