At yesterday's Union County Superior Court hearing in the Birchwood development case, Judge Lisa Chrystal denied the township's motion for a new trial. The judge also scheduled a hearing on the final site plan approval for the 360-unit affordable housing project for early next year.
On Monday, Township Attorney Phil Morin argued that comments made by Special Court Master Elizabeth McKenzie in support of affordable housing cast doubt on her impartiality in the case, and thus warranted a reappointment and new trial. The comments were contained in emails. Still, the other side argued that McKenzie's past affordable housing work did not have an affect on her recommendations to the township.
"This is not the sort of bias that one would expect," said Stephen Eisdorfer, an attorney for Cranford Development Associates. "All of the events happened after the court found [Cranford] not in compliance," he added.
Judge Chrystal mentioned McKenzie's resume, which included stints throughout New Jersey doing work with affordable housing since the 1970s and said the township should have been aware. "Defendants have failed to demonstrate relief is warranted," Chrystal said in her opinion, before denying the motion to reconsider the appointment of McKenzie.
"That was a disappointing result to the township, but not surprising," Morin said hours later during his township committee meeting briefing. "That will be an issue that will be part of a future appeal," he said.
Chrystal scheduled a hearing on the final site plan for the Birchwood Avenue property on Feb. 4, 2013 at 10a.m. A final decision is expected that day, or soon thereafter, according to Morin. A final decision will clear the way for the township to appeal and continue its fight against the Birchwood development.