Daily Record (October 18, 1996)
Korean family suing Pal Park for $2.5M
Deprived of right to build mini-mall, they say
By Peter J. Sampson
PALISADES PARK � A Korean family is seeking $2.5 million in damages in a lawsuit claiming that Palisades Park and its Planning Board trampled on their rights when they sought permission to build a mini-mall on the town’s commercial strip.
The prospective developers, who say they invested their life savings in the project, claim the borough deprived them of the right to use the property by enacting ordinances that thwarted their plans.
The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Newark on behalf of Un Son Kim; his wife, Hye Cha, former owners of a grocery store in East Rutherford; and their son, Pyong Su (Peter) Kim, all of Rutherford.
It seeks a court ruling voiding two borough ordinances and awarding compensatory damages totaling $2.5 million.
While declining to comment on the suit, Borough Attorney Joseph J. Rotolo acknowledged that the proposed development was a factor in the council’s decision to rezone the property before the Planning Board had completed its review of the application.
Peter Kim, a marketing manager for a pharmaceutical company, said his family would not have ventured a dime in Palisades Park had they any inkling that the rules could be changed in mid-game.
“We feel that we don’t want to get emotional about this, but we at least have to have a chance,” Kim said.
“My parents devoted all their lives to saving all their pennies to make something possible. Everything that we have done has been done by the book. All of a sudden, somebody starts changing the rules and it came to this,” he said.
“If that is not injustice, I do not know what to call injustice. I’m not going to say it is discrimination because I think that is a very strong word. But you don’t have to be a college graduate or a very knowledgeable person to make a judgment about what is happening.
LAWSUIT: Claims Pal Park action arbitrary, capricious
“The bottom line is, we are in the United States of America, and the politicians cannot just use their powers to [unconstitutionally] take the people’s rights,” Kim said.
The suit is the first several anticipated legal challenges by members of the Korean business community to a series of quality-of-life ordinances adopted by the Borough Council this year.
The Kim’s attorney, Christine M. Bae of Fort Lee and Manhattan, said she expects to file additional suits within the next two weeks on behalf of Korean restaurants, karaoke clubs, and other businesses that fear they will be harmed by a new curfew on night-time businesses and another ordinance tightening restrictions on Sunday sales.
It was also the third lawsuit to be filed against the borough in two months. Two 24-hour gas stations are already challenging the ordinances restrictingnighttime business hours. The curfew, which requires that most businesses close by 9 p.m. and gas stations by midnight, has been temporarily blocked pending a hearing that was rescheduled to Dec. 12 at the borough’s request. In another suit, the local homeowners association is trying to scuttle a new ShopRite superstore approved over the summer.
The controversy involving the Kims dates to May 1995, when they entered into negotiations to purchase an irregularly-shaped parcel at 531 Broad Ave. with the intention of demolishing the house and replacing it with a mini-mall.
After receiving assurances from the borough’s zoning officer that retail stores and shops werea permitted use, the Kims submitted plans for a two-story building with five shops and parking for 90 cars to the Planning Board for approval, the suit said.
Their plan, however, ran into stiff opposition from area residents and neighbors in nearby Leonia.
In May of this year, about two weeks after the Kims took title to the property, the council enacted an ordinance prohibiting more than one retail business on a single tax lot. The measure effectively precluded the Kims from operating a mini-mall, the suit said.
Then, a month after the Kims revised their plans and proposed a single commercial store that conformed with the ordinance, the council introduced an ordinance rezoning a one-block stretch of Broad Avenue from Edsall Boulevard to Oakdeen Avenue on the Leonia border to permit only one-and two-family homes.
The rezoning, which was applauded by residents from both towns, was adopted Aug. 15 as the Planning Board was still hearing the Kims’ application.
The suit claims the borough violated the Kims’ constitutional right to due process and the passage of the ordinances was arbitrary and capricious.
The suit also alleges the council adopted the ordinances in response to complaints about the proposed mall voiced by Leonia Mayor Judah Zeigler and scores of Leonia residents, who packed the Planning Board and council meetings.
The Kims say they have suffered a $1 million loss in the value of their property, $40,000 in fees paid to engineers and architects, and $210,000 in financing charges while the property cannot be developed as intended.
Rotolo, the borough attorney, said the rezoning was undertaken because the council recognized that the area was predominantly residential and “it provided a good buffer between the strictly residential use in Leonia and the commercial uses and high intensity uses in the center of Palisades Park.”
“It’s a good transition zone and it made good sense,” Rotolo said. “It didn’t happen strictly as a reaction to this project, although this project was considered as part of the thinking.”