One of the favorite threats of developers is litigation. What they can’t get by regulation, they try to get by litigation. Sometimes, citizens use this weapon as well. In Lacey, New Jersey, Regina Discenza, who has waged a dogged fight against Home Depot in her community, filed a civil lawsuit on July 25th in the Ocean County, NJ Superior Court. Her complaint charges that the Lacey Township Planning board acted in an “oppressive, unlawful”, arbitrary and capricious manner because 1) it failed to give proper notice of public hearings, 2) it approved a land use not allowed in the C-150 zone (a Home Depot “warehouse”), 3) it approved a project in which the developer did not own or have under contract all the land involved 4) it was tainted by a conflict of interest from a board member who had a predisposing bias in support of the project, and 5) it did not consider the “severe adverse impact” the Home Depot will have on the public water supply of Lacey and the traffic circulation problems it will create. Discenza has asked the court to direct the Planning Board to deny the site plan for the Home Depot. The Lacey Retail Center includes a 132,172 s.f. Home Depot, a second retailer of 156,537 s.f., plus a bank and an Applebee’s restaurant, for a total of 299,271 s.f. of sprawl, or 7 acres of buildings. The Planning Board voted June 9th. that the plan posed no danger to the surrounding area, was in a zone that permitted a shopping center, and would not “unduly impact” the neighborhood. The proposal still needs approval from the state’s Department of Transportation, and the Lacey Municipal Utilities Authority — because the project retention basin is located within 500 feet of 3 wells which provide the town’s drinking water. One of the conditions for the project includes building a 9 foot high solid fence to prevent car headlights from shining into residential areas. The town is also allowing Home Depot to store items outside of the store up to eight feet in height. Discenza gathered 3,000 signatures of local residents on a “Just Say No to Home Depot” petition, and paid for a billboard in town against Home Depot. Discenza called her lawsuit “a major setback for the Lacey Home Depot”. Her suit could take as long as a year to come before the court. “We are prepared to take this for the long haul,” Discenza told the Asbury Park Press. Home Depot, for its part, said “we defend (Discenza’s) right to appeal” — because they have done the same thing themselves.
Discenza has been carrying out a protracted battle against Home Depot for more than a year. Her move into court is more often a strategy employed by
deep-pocketed developers. It sends the message to town officials that your own citizens are prepared to fight for appropriate zoning even if you are not. To help Discenza pay her legal bills, Sprawl-Busters readers can contact her at [email protected]