Five members of the Hoboken City Council are calling on a planning board commissioner to be removed by Mayor Ravi Bhalla after sending out an email recommending over a dozen different land use attorneys to developers – at least one of which who is expected to go before the board.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“With the retirement of Bob Matule numerous people have asked for suggestions for a land use attorney,” Hoboken Planning Board Commissioner Gary Holtzman wrote in an undated email, where the recipients have been redacted, that appears to have been sent in July (a word attachment is dated 7-2018).
“I have polled our current and past Planning Board professionals and have compiled a list, alphabetically, of the people they have suggested.”
Matule is a local land use attorney who retired this summer after a long career, making hundreds of appearances before the Hoboken planning and zoning boards.
Among the 16 suggestions are attorneys from high-powered law firms Genova Burns, Price, Meese, Shulman and D’Arminio PC – the employer of former Bergen County Prosecutor John Minelli – and Florio, Perucci, Steinhardt and Cappelli LLC, the firm where Mayor Ravi Bhalla used to work when he was on the city council.
In a letter sent to Bhalla yesterday afternoon, Council President Ruben Ramos, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham and 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino all called for the mayor to use his authority to remove Holtzman from the planning board.
” … We have independently verified that at least one of the recipients is indeed a local developer who may have applied or is expected to apply for local zoning and/or planning approvals,” the letter says.
“To our knowledge, Mr. Holtzman’s action is entirely unprecedented, puts the integrity of the City’s land use, planning and zoning functions into question and creates a potential for claims of conflict and favored treatment that expose the City to legal and reputational risk.”
The five elected officials also state that “multiple, experienced New Jersey land use attorneys and professionals” agreed with their point of view.
In addition to seeking Holtzman’s removal from the board, the council majority is also asking Bhalla to open up an investigation into the matter and for Holtzman to recuse himself from all land use matters.
The most recent planning board meeting was held last night and according to the city’s official website, Holtzman voted yes on five separate matters in front of the nine-member board – all of which passed with ease.
“This is disappointing conduct that has created undue risk for our City. I hope that the mayor acts swiftly and makes the right decision for Hoboken,” Fisher told HCV.
Holtzman, a former board chairman who is married to the city’s Certified Floodplain Administrator and zoning officer, Ann Holtzman, did not immediately return inquiries seeking comment, while a city spokesman also did not immediately return an email seeking comment.