The New Jersey Supreme Court is currently considering whether a six-day delay in filing a complaint will doom a community group's challenge to a proposed development plan in Hopewell Township. In the case, captioned Hopewell Valley Citizens Group v. Berwind Property Group Development Co., the Court is faced with the familiar choice between strictly applying the deadlines set forth in the Rules of Court and relaxing those deadlines to accommodate the interests of the parties in appropriate situations.
In 2008, the Hopewell Township planning board approved a commercial development plan over the strenuous objections of local residents. A group known as the Hopewell Valley Citizens Group subsequently decided to file a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs challenging this decision, but it did so more than 45 days after publication of the board's decision. While the group acknowledged that its complaint was untimely under R. 4:69-6, it argued that the delay was inadvertent, as it was caused by incorrect information provided by a clerk in the township's planning office. Moreover, the group argued that an extension should be provided as a matter of course because of the public interest nature of the group's complaint, which challenges the possible environmental impact of the development plan. In an opinion written by Mercer County Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg, the New Jersey Appellate Division rejected this argument and ruled that there was no reason to allow the challenge to proceed and no reason to grant an extension. (A copy of the Appellate Division opinion can be found here.) It is now up to the Supreme Court to determine whether to allow this ruling to stand, or to grant the extension and permit the group's challenge to proceed. A decision is expected later this winter.