2005-06-07 / Front Page

Document may give Keyport edge in suit

Boro, developer wrote

no claims could rise

from breaking plans


Staff Writer

A developer suing Keyport to build 500 housing units on the site of a historic WWI airplane factory may have an uphill battle, thanks to a legal document signed by both parties.

Mark Bellin, the principal member of Century Land Group, is suing the borough for the right to build between 500 and 550 housing units on the site of the old Aeromarine Plane and Motor Co., a 62-acre tract of waterfront land once used to build training planes for the Navy during WWI.

A document called a memorandum of understanding, meant to solidify a relationship between the borough and developer, was signed in 2003 by Mayor John Merla and Bellin.

The lawsuit claims that because of the memorandum, Century Land Group spent over $600,000 on various studies of the Aeromarine landscape, including those concerning the existing landfill that sits on roughly 54 acres of the property.

The 11-page document contains a portion asking the borough to change the zoning of Aeromarine to allow for the “development contemplated by the developer.”

It also states that Keyport has the right to terminate the agreement at any time, according to Gordon Litwin, redevelopment attorney for the borough.

“Neither the borough nor any of their officials will be liable for any claims resulting from the negotiations, execution, implementation or termination of this memorandum of understanding,” reads a portion of the document.

“I read the lawsuit and I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really understand it,” Merla said. “There’s a statement, something about a breach of contract. They don’t have a contract. They don’t even own the property.”

Although Century Land Group doesn’t own the property, they do have a contract with the owners, Bushwick Reality Corp. and Bayridge Reality Corp., of Brooklyn.

The lawsuit, filed May 2, states that the borough made inappropriate zoning changes that will affect the developer’s ability to build multifamily dwellings.

Until recently, the area was zoned for single-family homes. That changed in March when the Unified Planning Board deemed it “an area in need of redevelopment,” which consequently gave the borough the right to hire any developer it wished for that endeavor.

Litwin says the borough is not obligated under the memorandum.

“The town did not agree to declare Century as the developer by doing this agreement,” Litwin said.

Litwin could not explain why the borough chose to enter into the agreement with Century.

“I don’t know why,” Litwin said. “I wasn’t there at the time.”

Merla was also fuzzy on the details surrounding the reasoning behind the agreement, noting that it was several years ago and he has not looked at the document in some time.

“As far as I know, it’s still valid because they still have escrow funds posted,” Merla said.

Litwin was scheduled to appear at Monday’s Borough Council meeting, asking that matters regarding the lawsuit be shared with the Unified Planning Board.

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