Farming Lawsuit Conference Moved to October
County court officials confirmed the new date for the case management conference.
The original date for the conference was Sept. 11.
The lawsuit over the market garden ordinance, which passed the Chatham Township Committee in April by a vote of 3-2, was filed by nine residents of the township's Green Village neighborhood in June.
Residents who filed the lawsuit—Jim and Shirley Honickel, Richard Erich Templin, Chris and Kristen Struening, Michael J. and Nicole O'Connell and Vincent and Thea Bancroft Ziccolella, collectively the Citizens Against Ordinance 2012-05—want the ordinance declared void and invalidated.
The lawsuit says the ordinance "is clearly arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and plainly contrary to the fundamental principles of zoning and Municipal Land Use Law," and "fails to advance the Municipal Land Use Laws [sic] declared purpose of promoting the public health, safety, morals and general welfare."
Plaintiffs want the ordinance declared void and invalidated. They also seek attorney's fees, costs and expenses from the township.
The township responded to the lawsuit by demanding its dismissal with prejudice. The response also asks for the courts to award court costs and attorneys' fees to the township.
The response denied allegations that the ordinance was arbitrary or capricious, or that the ordinance fails to uphold existing law. The township committee, the response says, acted "in good faith" and within their lawful powers.
"All actions taken by the Township were legally justified, were privileged and represented the exercise of rights equal to or superior to the rights of the Plaintiff[s]," the response reads in part.
According to the response, the original complaint does not give a "cause of action upon which relief may be granted."
The ordinance allows residential-zoned properties over 3 acres to obtain permission from the Chatham Township Planning Board grow produce and sell it off-site. A total of 61 properties qualify in the township.
To get approval from the Planning Board, property owners must file a farm conservation plan with the township clerk which adheres to the Soil Conservation District and the USDA National Organic Program standards.
Residents desirous of obtaining permission to farm must also adhere to rules of the state Agricultural Development Committee and Department of Environmental Protection, and recommendations of the Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station.
Township Attorney Carl Woodward said in a previous interview with Chatham Patch he expects a schedule for the lawsuit will be set at the conference. Typically, he said, "the judge will set the schedule to complete discovery, set up a briefing schedule and a trial date."
Woodward said at a Chatham Township Committee meeting in June that the trial would likely be "very short" and could take only a single day.