BRICK – Several residents living near a controversial former bank site on Adamston Road where owners of 385 Adamston LLC initially hoped to build a medical marijuana dispensary, attended the recent council meeting after the owners of the property filed a lawsuit against Brick Township in early August.
385 Adamston LLC, also known as Jersey Shore Therapeutic Health Care, changed their application to just growing cannabis in a 48,000 square foot grow house, and then once again changed their application to growing hemp, and then changed their plan to farming lettuce in the grow house, taking marijuana out of the proposal.
In May, the Zoning Board ruled that growing lettuce indoors was not “customary and conventional,” as is allowed in a Rural Residential zone where the former Ocean First Bank was located.
The 108-page lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court, Ocean County by the applicant’s attorney Dennis M. Galvin against the township Planning Board, Zoning Board, Township Clerk and Brick Township, asking for an automatic approval for farming lettuce in the proposed grow house to be built behind the bank building.
In part, the lawsuit says that Brick has violated Jersey Shore Therapeutic Health Care’s right to use the site as a farm, which is a permitted use in the zone.
Also in the lawsuit, Galvin said that the Planning Board did not notify him within a required 45-day limit that a legal document was incomplete and their failure to notify him “was done in bad faith and caused undue delay.”
“I want to make sure we’re all on the same page in this room,” said Adamston Road homeowner Bill Truex during the council meeting.
He read a list of the allowable uses for the Rural Residential zone in which the former Adamston Road bank is located, which does not include any commercial or industrial use except for a public and accredited private school, which may be conducted as a business, he said.
“The applicants are suing the town because their marijuana, hemp and lettuce farm did not gain approval from the Zoning Board or the Planning Board,” Truex said.
He said the owners of the property are seeking automatic approval because the township did not inform them in a timely manner that their application was deficient. However, their attorney Dennis Galvin attended the board meetings and argued on their behalf that they would need a variance to operate any of their proposed uses on the property.
“Is that enough public notice?” he asked the governing body.
Council Attorney Kevin Starkey said he always advises the council and mayor not to comment on pending litigation, but said the Zoning Board, the Planning Board and the township “are on the same page” as the opposing residents, he said.
“We agree with you, and we are fighting that battle in court because the applicant has brought this lawsuit against the Zoning Board, the Planning Board and the township,” Starkey said.
He called 385 Adamston LLC’s position in the lawsuit of an automatic approval “close to absurd,” but added they have the right to bring it up in court.
“We are going to vigorously fight against that, and I don’t like to predict things but I feel comfortable with our position and the Zoning Board’s decision on that matter,” Starkey said.
The attorney explained that Jersey Shore Therapeutic Health Care filed their application in front of the Planning Board, saying it was a permitted use. The Planning Board disagreed, but sent it to the Zoning Board for a determination on the law – or whether it was a permitted use or not, Starkey explained.
The applicant had a hearing before the Zoning Board on that issue and they lost, Starkey said.
“What they’re saying is, as a technical matter, we filed our paperwork with the Planning Board, and the Planning Board should have done something,” he said.
The Planning Board did do something, Starkey said: they took action which was to send it to the Zoning Board for a response.
They held a public hearing, with notice, with the applicant participating, and with them getting up and speaking before they rendered a decision, he said.
“They got what any applicant is entitled to,” Starkey said. “To me, their lawsuit is sort of a backdoor way to say ‘well we don’t need to go before any board.’ We don’t need an approval. We can just come in and do it.”
The township is in compliance with what they are required to do, Starkey said.
“It doesn’t mean they can’t file a lawsuit challenging what we’ve done, which is what they have done,” he added.
Adamston Road resident Mike Dumas said that the residents were concerned that the recent lawsuit might result in a settlement.
“We just want to know that whatever happens is going to be shared with the town, that there will be a public process,” he said.
Starkey said he guaranteed that there would be no behind-closed-doors settlement, and that any future hearings would be public meetings before a Board, where comments and input from the public could be heard.
The next council meeting will be on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.