EAST AMWELL – A state appeals court upheld a Superior Court ruling barring Mayor Rick Wolfe from participating in any proceedings involving a The Ridge at Back Brook because of his personal biases, including his quote that the country club “throws a giant middle finger at us” and that it was going to “make life hell” for the club and its owner.
The appeals court also upheld the lower court ruling overturning a 2019 amendment to the township master plan that limited what could be built on the township’s only golf course, including a helipad and swimming pool.
The appeal decision is the latest skirmish in the legal war between the township and the 300-acre country club, which includes another pending lawsuit and property tax appeals.
The pending lawsuit, now in the filing stage, alleges that the township’s noise ordinance of 2020, which limits mowing hours on the golf course, was passed “in retaliation” for the lower court’s decision.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals court wrote that Wolfe’s statements “give the appearance of an elected official with a deep-seated personal bias against a member of his community who likely had the ability to influence the government. exercise of his sworn public functions “.
The court also wrote that preventing Wolfe from participating in matters involving the club “does not hamper or hamper the functioning of the local government in East Amwell, it makes it easier” because his actions have “the ability to displace confidence. of the public in its integrity to accomplish its sworn mission “. public duty. “
The tension between the township and the club began in 2006 when the club applied to build a helistop on the property. This request was rejected.
The club filed another application two years later and was again denied.
But, after a statewide court ruling in 2015 that the state Department of Transportation had “ultimate authority” over the construction of aeronautical facilities, the club filed a claim with the state for the helistop, which has been approved. The approval limited the operation to eight take-offs and eight landings per month from April to December. This was approved in 2019.
But while this request was pending, the township committee held a special meeting on the issue of helistops. At that meeting, city committee member Wolfe said he wanted to speak “as a member of the public” and made “several derogatory comments” about the club, according to court documents, including his appeals in property tax.
The club then agreed to the township’s rule that their valuation would be cut by about half, from $ 10.6 million to $ 5.3 million.
A few months later, Wolfe helped draft changes to the township’s master plan that only applied to golf courses and removed them from permitted uses in the area. In a public hearing on the change, Wolfe accused the club of not being a “good neighbor” because of the property tax and helistop appeal.
Additionally, according to court documents, Wolfe alleged that two former township officials had “shady relationships” and “behind-the-scenes affairs” with the club. The two officials subsequently denied the charges.
The club then filed a complaint against the township and Wolfe. Superior Court Judge Michael O’Neill ruled in favor of the club, saying Wolfe’s comments were “one-sided attacks of a personal nature.”
One month after the judge’s decision, the municipal commission introduced the noise ordinance which is the subject of the ongoing dispute. A status conference on the case is scheduled for July 29.
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Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. For unrestricted access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please register or activate your digital account today.