Hamilton Township required to honor settlement
Court Leaves Hamilton Holding the Bill For Klockner Woods
by Ryan Tracy/The Times
Monday July 21, 2008, 1:13 PM
“HAMILTON — The state Supreme Court will not hear Hamilton’s appeal of the Klockner Woods case, effectively enforcing a lower court ruling that the township pony up the roughly $4.5 million it owes for the 51-acre piece of open space.
The high court’s denial, handed down Friday, ended a legal fight to void the purchase begun by the Republican-controlled township council in November 2006.
GOP council members, backed this year by Mayor John Bencivengo, a Republican, have argued that the council never appropriated funds for the land deal. Former Mayor Glen D. Gilmore, a Democrat, agreed to the settlement with Doylestown, Pa.-based Fieldstone Associates in 2005.
The courts have sided with Fieldstone, noting that Hamilton had money already available in its open space fund. Three appellate division judges and Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg have also reasoned that once Hamilton condemned the property and then settled with Fieldstone on a price, the township was obligated to pay for the land.
“We are very pleased that the N.J. Supreme Court has required the township to pay for the property it took by eminent domain. The political maneuvering in Hamilton has cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in avoidable interest expense,” said Jack Buonocore, the attorney representing Fieldstone in the case. “Maybe now the council will pay up and give the taxpayers the break they deserve.”
Hamilton already has paid more than $300,000 in interest and currently owes $425,000 more, plus the original purchase price of $4.1 million, Buonocore said.
George Dougherty, the attorney representing Hamilton, said he was “very disappointed that the Supreme Court would not take this case under review.”
“Now that debt is going to have to be added to an already overwhelming deficit (in Hamilton) because it was never planned for. There was never any money appropriated,” Dougherty said, referring to a $15.7 million budget gap that the township covered largely with a 30 percent tax increase earlier this year. “My heart goes out to the taxpayers who now have to figure out a way of finding” the money.
Contact Ryan Tracy”
McKirdy & Riskin’s John H. Buonocore, Jr., www.mrod.law, served as special condemnation counsel to the property owner, Fieldstone Associates, in this litigation. The opinion of the Appellate Division, which the Supreme Court refused to revisit or overturn, can be read at: http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/courts/appellate/a3754-06.opn.html