Frank Nussbaum set up an escrow account for the village to use

Developer paid for village's lawsuit against town of Chester

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By Nathan Mayberg

— A new zoning change in the village of Chester that would pave the way for hundreds of condominiums and senior apartment units behind ShopRite, will be up for a public hearing on Sept. 8 at the village hall.

The zoning change may not have happened if the village hadn't been aided by the project's developer BT Holdings and Frank Nussbaum in funding a lawsuit against the town of Chester to annex property.

In 2012, the village board authorized a lawsuit against the town to force the annexation despite the town board voting against it. The town settled the suit with the village last year after Nussbaum agreed to scale down the scope of the project from 436 residences to the current proposal of 340 units.

The petition for the annexation goes back to 2008.

In response to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Chronicle for the cost of the lawsuit, village of Chester Clerk Rebecca Rivera stated: "The Village commenced the litigation with the Town over the 'BT Holdings Annexation' under the caveat that the applicant, BT Holdings, pay all the Village's legal fees and expenses associated with that action. And that is what was done. All of the Village's legal costs, relating to the BT Holdings litigation, was paid out of an escrow account funded by BT."

The amount the village was billed was not immediately available.

Nussbaum acknowledged paying the legal fees of the village attorney and said he was a co-plaintiff in the suit.Nussbaum said he couldn't estimate the amount of legal bills he had to pay, but said he has paid all of the fees the village has been charged for in its review of the project, including all of the consultants who have handled the environmental review of the project.

Nussbaum said he has paid out more than $2 million in combined fees to the consultants and for legal expenses. "We settled the lawsuit with the town right as we were about to get to very expensive parts of the lawsuit," he said.

The development proposes a total of 34 units on 68 acres, or more than four units per acre.

The proposed zoning code would allow multifamily buildings with three or more units .

At an April village board workshop on the zoning, the public was prohibited from participating while input from Nussbaum, his attorney and the village planner were allowed.

Village of Chester Mayor Phil Valastro didn't return messages seeking comment.

Nussbaum said there have been dozens of public meetings on the project over the years. The annexation into the village was needed in order to give access to the village's water supply, Nussbaum said.

Once the zoning changes are approved, the project would go to the planning board for site plan review. The environmental review process has been completed, Nussbaum said. It lasted more than four years. "There has been a lot of oversight," he said.

John Reilly, a former village of Chester Planning Board member for 27 years, who recently stepped down, said he objected to the proposed zoning changes.

The board, he said, wrote a letter to the village board explaining that it didn't agree with the zoning changes.

In addition to the density changes, Reilly said the proposed new code "takes discretion away from the planning board." It will "handcuff the planning board," he said.

The public hearing will be held Monday, Sept. 8 (see related story on page 1).

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