Jun Choi, the current Mayor of Edison, New Jersey, does not want a Wal-Mart supercenter in his township. But the agreements approved by township officials before he took office have tied his hands. Choi charged that the township violated its legal obligation when it granted Wal-Mart a building permit. But the developer sued the Mayor, saying that he unlawfully interfered with the process and should be held personally responsible for the developer’s monetary losses. When the developer’s lawsuit was filed, Choi called it “intimidation and scare tactics,” and reiterated his charge that the township Planning Board failed to comply with proper procedure in executing the developer’s agreement. “The legal basis for us not issuing the building permit is they did not properly execute the developer’s agreement back in 2005,” the Mayor told the Home News Tribune. He said the Planning Board needed approval from the Township Council to execute the document — which it never received. According to the township’s municipal codebook, a developer’s agreement must be executed and delivered to the Township Council before on-site construction may begin. The township and the developer, Edison Route 27, entered into a developer’s agreement in December 2005. The Planning Board had granted site-plan approval a year earlier, in December 2004 for a 140,000 s.f. Wal-Mart. When he ran for office in 2005, Choi said that he opposed the Wal-Mart, blaming the incumbent Mayor at the time, George Spadoro, and the Planning Board for surreptitiously pushing the application through. “This was snuck through in the middle of the night,” Choi said during a debate in the summer of 2005. “George Spadoro’s appointments to the Planning Board did not do their jobs properly.” But the developer said that Choi was attempting “to frustrate and thwart the project” and engaging in a “wrongful misuse of his powers.” The developer calculated that the delays were costing them $2,970 per day, or just over a million dollars a year. The developer in its lawsuit asked the court to hold the Mayor personally responsible for those costs, and sought damages and attorney fees from Choi. This week, Judge James P. Hurley of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County ruled against the Mayor, and ordered the city to give Wal-Mart a building permit within 20 days. “The township will comply with the judge’s order,” Mayor Jun Choi told the newspaper. “But we continue to oppose this project.” Edison Route 27 Associates has already paid the township $1 million for traffic improvements, and paid $96,000 to the township’s tree-replacement fund, a fund that generates money from developers that don’t replace trees on their sites.
Mayor Choi gets the Sprawl-Busters Municipal Courage Award for coming out squarely against this Wal-Mart project. The Mayor knows that Wal-Mart brings no added value to his community, and even after the court ruling, the Mayor continued to oppose the project — despite the financial threats made against him by the developer. The 34 year old Mayor has held positions at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, working on improving the Social Security system, and worked as a management consultant for Ernst & Young, advising Fortune 500 companies on business and technology strategy. Choi says his feeling is that “too many citizens don’t feel that they can make a difference and improve our collective future.” If you want to congratulate the young Mayor of Edison for standing up to Wal-Mart and special interest developers, call his phone line at 732-248-7298.