The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled that a Union City Zoning Board of Adjustment decision was improper since two members of that governing body are also a part of state Senator (D-33)/Mayor Brian Stack’s non-profit organization.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The zoning board vote in question revolves around a December 10th, 2015 hearing where an application for the Panorama Live Poultry Market, which had hoped to move about two blocks away from their original location due to a major rent increase, was voted down.
“The Law Division judge must review, consider, and determine whether the high level positions Grullon and Gutierrez had in the Mayor’s Association at the time plaintiff’s application came before the Board, viewed in the context of the mayor’s aggressive opposition to plaintiff’s application, constituted an indirect personal interest … precluding both of them from participating in this matter,” Appellate Judge Jose L. Fuentes wrote this morning.
The ruling also says that the state superior court “erred in failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing” to decide whether or not Commissioners Victor Grullon, the vice chair of the board, and Margarita Gutierrez should have recused themselves due to conflicts of interest.
At the time of the vote in question, Gutierrez was the CEO of the Brian P. Stack Civic Association, while Grullon was the vice president of the organization.
The applicants, Manuel and Niurka Alvarez, argued through their attorneys that “Mayor Stack’s Civic Association is a tool used to secure Mayor Stack’s alleged political stronghold in Union City,” though the previous ruling said there was no evidence presented to substantiate this claim.
Further muddying the waters in this case is the fact that Stack himself sent out a mailer opposing the project prior to the hearing.
“I am personally not in favor of the live poultry market that is proposed for 25th Street and Central Avenue. This is not something I believe would benefit or improve your neighborhood,” he wrote back in November of 2015.
According to court testimony, the plaintiffs found this particularly troubling since they met with Stack and Health Department Director Alex Velasquez on March 5th, 2015 during the mayor’s office hours and neither expressed any objections to the project.
While Fuentes’ ruling reversed the lower court’s previous decision, the matter is now remanded back to the New Jersey Superior Court.
Appellate Court Judges Allison E. Accurso and Francis J. Vernoia also heard the case.
A city spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.