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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Brought by Warehouse Opponents in New Jersey

Citizen Groups Plan To Appeal in Case Against Harrison Township

Warehouse opponents in New Jersey have suffered a legal setback, but they plan to file an appeal.

A Superior Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sought to rescind a redevelopment plan in Harrison Township that allows the construction of warehouses in part of the municipality. Two groups, the Casella Farms Homeowners Association and Holding Hands Daycare, had charged that the King's Landing Redevelopment Plan unlawfully violated the township's master plan.

The Casella Farms organization said it was disappointed that its lawsuit was dismissed at the trial level, but looks forward to appealing the court’s decision.

“We are not deterred and are pleased that the appellate court will review our case with fresh eyes," Adam Pennypacker, president of the homeowners association, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday on the suit's dismissal. "The future of our community and township are in serious jeopardy due to the failures of local administration. Thanks to the support of our neighbors, we’re just getting started in our fight against this warehouse project and we will see this through to the end.”

Bitter battles have erupted across New Jersey over new industrial development, as opponents seek to check what they call "warehouse sprawl" across the Garden State. There have been similar dust-ups in other parts of the nation, such as California, but none more so than New Jersey, which has seen a spurt of logistics projects because of its popularity as a distribution hub, due to its location in a densely populated region and its proximity to major airports and seaports. Proponents of warehouse projects argue that the industry is a huge job and revenue creator for the state and shouldn't be curtailed.

Russo's Project Rejected

Harrison Township's designation of a redevelopment area in April 2022, via passage of an ordinance, had allowed Carlstadt, New Jersey-based Russo Development to submit a plan for a 2.1 million-square-foot complex with four warehouses on 160 acres. That location is in the Mullica Hill section of the municipality, in an area near the homeowners and the Holding Hands daycare center. Following public outcry against Russo's project, last December the township Joint Land Use Board voted against the proposed warehouses.

Nonetheless, warehouse opponents wanted the redevelopment plan overturned to continue to prevent the construction of any other warehouses in the redevelopment area. But in an 11-page ruling, Judge Benjamin Telsey in Gloucester County dismissed their suit. The decision, rendered last month, was first reported by

Russo Development issued a brief statement on the ruling and didn't comment on whether it planned to renew its efforts to build warehouses in Harrison Township.

“We are very pleased with the result, and believe the court’s opinion to be well reasoned and consistent with applicable case law and statutory authority,” the developer said in an email to CoStar News.

In part, the judge found that the lawsuit was "untimely" because it wasn't filed within the 45-day window for complaints regarding the redevelopment-plan hearing by Harrison Township, a rural area not far from Philadelphia. The homeowner's group and daycare center had sought an extension of that deadline, which Telsey refused to grant.

"While the residents whose homes are close to the redevelopment area might be opposed to the ordinance [designating the redevelopment area] or any applications that might be considered, that is not enough for this court to find that a significant public interest is present that would warrant an exception to the filing of a complaint so far out of time," he wrote.

Issue of Proper Notice

The lawsuit had named Harrison Mayor Lou Manzo, the Township Committee and an affiliate of Russo as defendants.

"We respectfully disagree with the trial court’s decision," Jeff Brennan, the attorney representing the homeowners association, said in a statement. "We believe that our pleadings establish both the significant impact this project would have on the entire community and that the township failed to give legally adequate notice of the redevelopment plan’s adoption. We are very optimistic that the Appellate Division will agree with our positions and will allow our case to be considered on its merits.”

When the suit was filed, the Casella Farms association said the township's redevelopment plan should be set aside and invalidated on several grounds, including allegedly not being given adequate notice of hearings related to it. The litigation claimed that the mayor and township committee adopted the plan to "facilitate an industrial-scale warehouse development immediately adjacent to our residential community."

The suit also claimed that the King's Landing redevelopment plan is contrary to the township's master plan, which states that its goal is to "reflect the development determinations of the municipality seeing to preserve its cultural heritage and retain its traditional agricultural/rural character while integrating a suburban style of development that lends itself to the creation of a community."

The attorney representing the township, James Maley, declined to comment on the court's dismissal of the lawsuit.

Aug 8, 2023


Linda Moss

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