ShopRite sues town over Clark Commons

CLARK – Although officials had high hopes for Clark Commons, the town center retail development on Raritan Road, the parent company of ShopRite is not happy about the project and filed a lawsuit claiming they knew nothing about the new venture
The $50 million, 241,000-square-foot complex, approved in August by the Clark Planning Board, was designed to encompass a small portion of the 29-acre former U.S. Gypsum site on Raritan Road across from the Hyatt Hills Golf complex. The project, expected to be completed by 2015, may face delays because of this legal red tape.

The complaint, filed in late October by Wakefern Food Corporation and ShopRite Supermarkets, Inc., against Clark Commons, LLC, developer William Krame of Krame Development, the Clark Planning Board and Township of Clark, came as a shock to officials and the developer alike.

Roadway improvements to Central Avenue, Raritan Road and Walnut Avenue were also brought into question in the court complaint, raising questions about how this element of the development came about.

In Wakefern’s complaint, the supermarket chain maintained these roadway improvements, including the addition of traffic signals entering and leaving the complex, as well as improvements to Central and Walnut avenues, “far exceeded” what the developer was required to do. In fact, ShopRites’s parent company claimed the traffic improvements were imposed as a “quid pro quo,” or, so the planning board would approve the application.

Wakefern also said adjacent property owners, including ShopRite, never received proper notice of the project. Also noted was that changes to the Hyatt Hills property, which were approved by the Planning Board, received the go ahead without this property owner’s consent.

According to the complaint, the site plan submitted to and approved by the Planning Board as part of the development application showed driveway modifications and “substantial improvements” to the Hyatt Hills public golf course on the north side of Raritan Road. The complex, owned by General Motors, is directly across from the Gypsum property, but is not in the same zone as Clark Commons.

These improvements, the complaint contended, were never referenced in the development application as a property subject to the application, considering the substantial improvements proposed by the developer. Wakefern maintained that General Motors, the owner of the Hyatt Hills golf course, was also not included in the Clark Commons application. The complaint also alleges the Clark Commons developer was never given consent by Wakefern and General Motors for the improvements.

Although multiple calls were made to General Motors in regard to these claims by Wakefern, they did not respond by press time.
Also brought into contention was that Krame certified that on July 19, 2013, his representatives “mailed by certified mail,” return receipt requested, a copy of a notice of hearing to all property owners within a 200-foot radius of the former Gypsum property and that a public hearing would be held Aug. 1 on the development application.

Wakefern included in the complaint a list of property owners the notice was sent to, but it did not include property owners within 200 feet of the Hyatt Hills property, even though substantial improvements were planned as part of the application before the Planning Board.
The parent company also noted in the complaint that when the developer published notice of a rescheduled meeting held on Aug. 8, they failed to notify all property owners within a 200-foot radius by certified mail, as required by the Municipal Land Use Law.

As a result, the complaint said, neither Wakefern nor ShopRite were ever aware the Planning Board actually conducted a rescheduled public hearing on the matter.

“Despite the magnitude of the proposed project, the Planning Board nonetheless approved the development application, errantly finding that no variances or design waivers were necessary,” the complaint alleged.

Wakefern indicated in the complaint that the Planning Boards actions were “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and otherwise wrongful and an unlawful exercise of its authority.”

Both Township business Administrator John Laezza and Krame strongly refuted all these accusations, maintaining the complaint is merely a “frivolous lawsuit” and an attempt to delay construction because a competitor, Whole Foods, will be an anchor store in the retail development.

Laezza, who said he worked with all parties throughout the months preceding the developer going to the Planning Board, was livid about the filing of the court complaint.

“ShopRite is mad because they do not like the competition. They are outright greedy,” he said, pointing out he had “three personal conversations” with Dave Figurelli of ShopRite about the project over a period of six months to a year and they were “well aware of what the project was all about.”

“They know more about this than we do,” Laezza said, adding ShopRite “even had their own people do a survey.”
However, Laezza did say that while ShopRite has been a good neighbor, their parent company’s only concern is “how many months or years they can delay a project in order to make more profit.”

Laezza said it is impossible for ShopRite not to have known about Clark Commons because the developer and town officials approached the supermarket about moving into Clark Commons since a larger parking area would benefit the busy and congested supermarket.
Eventually, Laezza said, after ShopRite canceled meetings about relocating and negotiations stalled, Krame had no choice but to move forward with talking to other supermarket chains.

As for the road improvements, Laezza said Krame offered to do these road improvements “voluntarily” because he recognized the problems the township faced with traffic and came up with a plan to address it.

Wakefern is taking the same route as the owner of ShopRite in Linden when the city decided to support a development project for a large upscale shopping center containing a Super Walmart, which has a supermarket that is very popular.
The project in Linden, already proposed and approved for the former General Motors site on Routes 1 and 9, is expected to include two large anchor stores and as many as 20 retail businesses.

However, after multiple lawsuits and appeals, recently the privately owned Linden ShopRite, which is not affiliated with Wakefern, was turned down by the New Jersey Supreme Court for yet another appeal.