The complaint alleges several things including: that adjacent properties, including ShopRite, were not given proper notice of the project; that discussed changes to the Hyatt Hills property were approved without the property owner's consent; that the project's proposed storm-water management design does not comply with NJ DEP regulations and best practices; and that the off-site roadway improvements surrounding the project "far exceeded" the developer's "fair share" and "were imposed as a quid pro quo for the Planning Board's grant of site plan approval."
Both Clark Business Administrator John Laezza and Krame Development's Bill Krame say that the suit is frivolous and is an attempt on ShopRite's part to delay construction on the project because it will house a competitor, Whole Foods.
"ShopRite is upset about ShopRite basically," Laezza told Patch. "They are a large corporation that does not like competition, and so ShopRite automatically sues any shopping center that’s in close proximity to one of their stores. That’s their habit."
ShopRite recently lost a years-long fight in Linden, where they sued over a development proposed near their property on Route 1&9.
Laezza was quick to defend the Clark ShopRite specifically, blaming instead their corporate office.
"The Clark ShopRite is well-managed and has been a good neighbor," says Laezza. "However, their corporate office's only concern is how many months or years they can delay a project in order to make more profit. The complaints they filed consist of many pages and, as is usual, they are quite frivolous."
Also, Laezza says claims that ShopRite was unaware of the project cannot be true because the developer and town officials had initially approached the business about relocating into the larger space and larger parking area that would be created on the new site. (ShopRite currently backs to the railroad tracks on one end of the project property.) The old site would then be connected to the Clark Commons property and rented to another tenant, to create one whole complex.
"We had spent many months talking to them," Laezza says. "The mayor talked to their controller. I talked to their president. They had indicated they had spent a lot of money on the ShopRite and didn’t want to go because it would cost them money. Then the developer even offered to pay all money they put out to embrace them to come in to make it one beautiful project. Still they didn't want to."
For their part, ShopRite officials told Patch their concerns stem from safety issues.
"The safety of our customers and associates, in particular, is a top priority," Tom Urtz, VP of Human Resources & Community Affairs for ShopRite wrote in a statement to Patch. "Plans to develop the site behind the ShopRite of Clark are a concern for us as they directly impact traffic flow for our customers. These concerns, which our customers have expressed as well, have yet to be properly addressed in the proposed plans."
As far as traffic concerns, Laezza says ShopRite was again difficult, canceling a meeting that was set to discuss the proposed roadway improvements.
"I just think it’s a shame," Clark Commons developer Bill Krame told Patch. "It's a travesty that they felt the need to bring a lawsuit to try to stop project when they had ample opportunities to show up at the public meetings and express any concerns."
Krame adds that ShopRite was the first supermarket approached as an anchor store for the project.
"We had been in lengthy negotiations with them about relocating and eventually had no choice but to make a deal with Whole Foods," says Krame. "I think ShopRite is trying to stop competition coming in and it's just not right. Suing is costing taxpayers money."
Krame is also quick to shut down the claim that the roadway improvements he's taking on are "excessive," or were done as a "quid pro quo" for the plan's approval. (Read about the road improvements in our story.)
"We decided on these improvements voluntarily," says Krame. "We recognized the problems and came up with a very extensive plan. It so happens that that's expensive, but we have no choice but to pay if we want the project to move forward."
Krame says the suit hasn't stopped progress on the project, however.
"We've got most of the buildings down already," says Krame. "We don’t want ShopRite to scare us. We're going forward."