EAST AMWELL – A state appeals court has upheld a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting Mayor Rick Wolfe from attending proceedings related to The Ridge at Back Brook due to his personal bias, including his quotation that the country club “gives us a huge Middle finger throws “. “And that he would” make life hell “for the club and its owner.
The appeals court also upheld the lower court ruling invalidating a 2019 amendment to the parish’s master plan that restricted what could be built on the parish’s only golf course, including a helipad and swimming pool.
The appeal decision is the latest stand in the legal war between the community and the 300 acre country club that includes another pending lawsuit and property tax claims.
The pending lawsuit, now in the dismissal phase, claims that the municipality’s 2020 Noise Ordinance, which limits hours of mowing on the golf course, was enacted “in retaliation” for the lower court ruling.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals court wrote that Wolfe’s statements “create the appearance of an elected official with a deeply ingrained personal bias against a member of his community who likely had the ability to influence the performance of his public sworn duties.”
The court also wrote that Wolfe’s exclusion from participation in matters affecting the club “does not hinder or hinder the work of the local government of East Amwell, but rather makes it easier” because its actions “have the ability to inspire confidence to repress the public in his integrity in order to fulfill his oath “. public duty. “
Tension between the community and the club started in 2006 when the club filed an application to build a helipad on the property. This request was rejected.
The club filed another application two years later and was rejected again.
But after a 2015 nationwide court ruling that the State Department of Transportation had “ultimate authority” over aerospace construction, the club filed an application with the state for the helipad, which was approved. The permit restricted operations to eight take-offs and eight landings per month from April to December. That was approved in 2019.
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But while that motion was pending, the community committee held a special meeting on the helipad. At the meeting, a member of the community committee Wolfe said he wanted to speak “as a member of the public” and made “several derogatory comments” about the club, including its property tax complaints, according to court records.
The club later agreed to the parish settlement that its valuation would be cut by about half, from $ 10.6 million to $ 5.3 million.
A few months later, Wolfe helped work out changes to the township master plan that applied only to golf courses and eliminated them as legal usage in the zone. In a public hearing on the change, Wolfe accused the club of not being a “good neighbor” because of the property tax complaint and the helipad.
According to court documents, Wolfe also alleged that two former community officials had “shady deals” and “backroom deals” with the club. Both officers later denied the allegations.
The club then filed a lawsuit against the community and Wolfe. Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill ruled in favor of the club, noting that Wolfe’s comments were “biased attacks of a personal nature”.
One month after the judge’s verdict, the community committee introduced the noise protection ordinance, which is the subject of the ongoing legal dispute. A status conference on the case is scheduled for July 29th.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. For full access to his articles in Somerset and Hunterdon counties, subscribe or activate your digital account today.