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The waters that flooded streets and homes in Manville and Bound Brook, N.J., a year ago have long since receded, but the towns are still awash in the litigation wake of Hurricane Floyd. Both towns are defending flood-related suits, and the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into allegations of anti-Hispanic bias underlying Bound Brook’s redevelopment plans in the wake of Floyd. In their suit filed in July, Mason et al. v. Borough of Manville et al., 32 residents of the Lost Valley neighborhood claim that although the county gave two days’ notice of the Sept. 16, 1999, storm, the town failed to take adequate measures to warn of possible flooding. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Rizzo, a partner with Warren, N.J.’s Rizzo & Bauer, says the flooding did not occur in Lost Valley until after 7 p.m. on the day of the storm. If warned, residents could have moved cars, furniture and other property to higher ground, even to upper stories of their homes, he says. The suit seeks damages for loss only to the plaintiffs’ personal property, not to their homes. At issue is whether there was a siren and if so, whether it was working. Rizzo says the borough administrator has denied that a siren existed but that some clients said there was one but that it was not working. Some of Rizzo’s clients have told him they thought they heard a siren, but that when they called the police, they were told it was not meant for Lost Valley. Rizzo says interrogatories he recently served on Manville inquire into whether a siren existed. The town also only had one rescue boat, which was out of gas when the storm hit, says Rizzo. To boot, most fire department members were attending a convention in Atlantic City, and Manville neglected to call them back to town. The town has since bought three more boats, says Rizzo, and is buying four sirens to be installed around town. Defending the town is Paul Tripodo, a partner at Livingston, N.J.’s Morgan, Meluish, Monaghan, Arvidson, Arbutyn & Lisowski. Among the 30 affirmative defenses raised in his answer to the complaint is the alleged late filing of tort claims by some plaintiffs. Rizzo acknowledges that notices for some clients were filed more than 90 days after the flood, although no more than 115 days in any instance. He doesn’t see a problem, however, because he says the 90 days to file didn’t start running until there was an indication of fault by the town. Even if the filing for some plaintiffs is considered late, there is no prejudice to the town, contends Rizzo, given that some notices were unquestionably filed on time. BOUND UP IN BOUND BROOK More than new equipment is needed to address the problems in Bound Brook. In May, 13 residents, property owners, business owners and taxpayers sued the town, mayor and council in seeking to halt a redevelopment plan the council adopted in March. Brnicevic et al. v. Borough of Bound Brook et al. As described in the complaint, the plan calls for redevelopment of the downtown, which was flooded by Floyd; construction of a hotel center, housing and parking decks, and the relocation and modernization of the train station. What is troubling to plaintiffs, says their attorney, Bret Kaplan, is that the plan allows for the condemnation of “any or all” of up to 200 acres for a period as long as 30 years. That, he says, seriously stretches the definition of the word “plan.” The “town can do a lot more with rehabilitation than going in there and bulldozing,” says Kaplan, an associate at DiFrancesco, Kunzman, Coley, Yospin, Bernstein & Bateman in Warren. The complaint alleges that the plan is “arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious” because it fails to satisfy the requirements of the Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A-12A-1 et seq. They charge that the plan fails to make adequate findings supporting the need for redevelopment, fails to provide for relocation of displaced people, fails to identify the property to be acquired and fails to explain its relationship to the master plans of neighboring towns. The suit seeks to nullify or amend the plan to include an alternative redevelopment plan developed by the Urban Land Institute. The institute plan has broader public support, places a greater emphasis on preservation as opposed to condemnation and takes a more comprehensive approach to redevelopment, Kaplan says. The town’s answer denies the existence of a plan or report prepared by the ULI. But the Web site of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, http://www.uli.org/, refers to an advisory services panel study conducted in Bound Brook “to help that community rebuild after floods from hurricane Floyd severely damaged its downtown.” In addition, a Jan. 18, 2000, press release on the Somerset County site, http://www.co.somerset.nj.us/, announces that the institute “has been contracted to assist in the development” of the county’s plan to rebuild downtown Bound Brook. Municipal attorney C. Douglas Reina says the ULI was merely “making recommendations as to how it believed the redevelopment or redoing of Bound Brook could take place.” The group never prepared or intended to prepare a redevelopment plan that met state law requirements, adds Reina, a partner in Bound Brook’s Abrams, Gran, Hendricks, Reina & Rosenberg. Though the Brnicevic complaint includes no allegation of discrimination, and Kaplan declines comment on the issue, others contend that one of the effects of Floyd has been to exacerbate discrimination against Bound Brook Hispanics. Attorney Karen DeSoto charges that while anti-Hispanic bias predated Floyd, it has intensified in the past year. With people uprooted by the flood and money coming in to rebuild, she believes that some officials are using the rebuilding effort to discourage Hispanics from staying in town. DeSoto, who works for a firm in Warren headed by Eric Bernstein, says she expects within a month to file a suit on behalf of local businesswoman Debra Betancourt, alleging discrimination under state and federal law. Betancourt is of Puerto Rican descent. DeSoto is awaiting the fruits of a Department of Justice investigation, which she says is probing whether Bound Brook is using its redevelopment plan and zoning and permit processes to target Hispanic residents. DOJ spokeswoman Kara Peterman declines to confirm or deny the investigation, but Reina says that the DOJ requested documents pertaining to redevelopment, planning and land use and that the town complied. Town building inspector Michael Gupko says that three weeks ago, DOJ paralegals copied scores of documents from his office. Gupko himself is at odds with other town officials and has filed a tort claim notice against the town. He alleges that the town is trying to discipline him for refusing to conduct late-night inspections of properties occupied by Hispanics. His attorney, George Goceljak of West Orange, N.J., declines to comment. Betancourt’s landlord, Evan Carzis, also has a suit against the town and its planning board. Carzis’s suit, filed in September 1999, just before the flood, includes claims that the defendants discriminated against Hispanics by improper use of site plan requirements. Joel Jacobson, Carzis’ attorney and a partner in Somerville, N.J.’s Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, says a “precipitating factor” behind the suit was a statement to his client by Planning Board Chairman Lyle Strain that Carzis was being denied permits because he rents to too many Hispanics. Most of Carzis’ properties are rented to persons of Hispanic background, says Jacobson. Susan Burns, an associate at Livingston, N.J.’s Genova Burns & Vernoia who is defending the Carzis action, denies that Strain made the comment. According to Reina, however, the borough council passed a resolution criticizing Strain because he failed to respond to accusations that he had made the statement. The flood also has led to action in the legislature, which is considering bills to assist towns in recovering from Floyd and to pay for long-term flood-control projects. Other legislation would impose flood disclosure obligations on landlords and insurers. Among the most broad-reaching of these bills is A-1513, which would require landlords to tell residential and commercial tenants whether the property is in a flood zone or area. The measure would extend to renters the same protections in place for homebuyers. The bill, introduced by Assembly Republicans Rose Marie Heck and Guy Talarico, both of Bergen, N.J., passed the Assembly 76-3 on June 26 and the Senate’s Community and Urban Affairs Committee on Sept. 14. A partner at Kaplan’s firm, Senate President Donald DiFrancesco, will decide whether to post the bill for a vote in the Senate.

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