By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The next move in the battle over Trinity Hall will come later this month when the issue heads to court.
Lawyers for Trinity Hall, a private all-girls high school, filed suit last month against the township and township planning board, which earlier had denied the school’s plan to build a permanent facility on Chapel Hill Road.
Meanwhile, attorney Ron Gasiorowski, acting on behalf of area resident Linda Glowczwski who opposed the plan, filed a motion to allow his client to be heard as an interested party.
The school’s lawyers are opposing that involvement.
Gasiorowski said a hearing on his motion is scheduled for Friday, Aug, 22, before Superior Court Judge Paul Kapalko in Freehold.
“Obviously, we were an integral part of the hearings” on the application, Gasiorowski said Wednesday. “If there is going to be an appeal, if the issue is going to be litigated, (Glowczwski) wants to be a participant. She has a right to be as an interested party.”
Attorney John Giunco, who represented Trinity Hall at the hearings, said “We believe Middletown Township’s attorneys can adequately represent the township and the public’s interest without Mr. Gasiorowski’s assistance.”
Gasiorowski maintains that the main objector during appeals of local board denials is often listed as a defendant in the suit.
In this case, “They want to keep us out,” he said. “I don’t know why.”
In its complaint, Trinity Hall alleges the planning board acted in an “arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious manner” in denying the school’s application to construct its facility. Specifically, Giunco charges, the application met all the requirements for a permitted conditional use in a low-density residential zone and actually did not need the board to grant any variances. “We’re hopeful the courts will agree when you file a fully conforming application you’re entitled to an approval.”
The complaint also charges the planning board failed to act in a timely manner by memorializing its formal resolution of denial within the legally required 45 days from its June 11 decision.
James Gorman, planning board attorney, said the board was scheduled to vote on that resolution at its Wednesday, Aug. 6 meeting, which was held after press time.
In addition, the school’s complaint alleges the township was culpable by adopting an ordinance that insufficiently outlined the requirements for such conditional uses in these zones.
Trinity Hall is the only all-girls private school currently operating in Monmouth and Ocean counties, according to the complaint, and provides a college preparatory, Roman Catholic-based religious and scholastic education. It started operating September 2013 out of the township-owned Croydon Hall, in the Leonardo section, under a lease that runs until August 2015. The school was seeking to construct a large permanent, multi-building complex on about 37 acres of an approximately 60-acre undeveloped and largely wooded site on Chapel Hill Road.
Area residents were vocal in their opposition, believing the use of the site is out of character for the residential area. They contend it would create drainage and traffic issues for the area and would negatively impact their quality of life and property values.
“They have every right to protect their rights if they think their property interests are being affected,” Gasiorowski said.
The planning board’s 6-3 vote in June seemed to agree with the objectors, raising concerns about traffic and other issues.
The complaint is seeking an expedited decision on the appeal because the school’s lease expires next year. But Gasiorowski said in June his client and other objectors would be willing to continue this battle beyond Superior Court, depending on the outcome.
That appeal process could take upward of three years, Gasiorowski said.