POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Owners of the Amethyst Beach Motel have filed a complaint challenging the April 20 adoption of an ordinance to acquire their property either through negotiation or by eminent domain.
The Amethyst owners dispute the borough’s claim that the site is needed for additional parking, stating that it contradicts the 2021 master plan with regard to parking.
They characterize the April 20 ordinance as a pretext for a borough campaign to shut down the motel.
The “civil action complaint in lieu of prerogative writs” was filed in Ocean County Superior Court. The borough must issue a response to the complaint in 35 days.
The complaint calls on the court to void the adoption of the ordinance and to award compensatory and punitive damages to Amethyst.
“I’ve been left with no other alternative,” motel owner John Fernicola told The Ocean Star. “I’ve extended a willingness to discuss it, but I didn’t like the idea of eminent domain.”
Paul Fernicola, a condemnation attorney representing owners of the Amethyst Beach Motel who is of no relation to his clients, said the real reason for the ordinance was not parking, as claimed by the borough.
“Their true motivation is that they simply want to eliminate the Amethyst Motel and the winter residents there and they’re using parking as a pretext to justify taking the property,” he said.
In response to the complaint, Borough Attorney Kevin Riordan said, “Mr. Fernicola’s lawsuit alleges that because the borough has always been aware of issues at the motel that the borough can’t choose to acquire his property for parking … That is not the law. The borough will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
According to Mayor Paul Kanitra, the ordinance adoption is step one in the borough’s plan to tear down the structure and create a new parking lot to expand summer tourist parking close to the beach.
Although officials have said the reason for the acquisition is parking, as stated in the ordinance, discussion in the council’s executive sessions also referred to the number of police calls and attention at the motel this year, according to Councilman Bob Santanello.
Affidavits filed by Mr. Councilman Santanello and Councilman Tom Migut are cited in the complaint as support for the motel owners’ claims.
Mr. Santanello’s affidavit states that in his opinion, the true reason for the move by the borough was to obtain the hotel because of a high number of police calls involving the establishment.
Mr. Migut’s affidavit states that the high volume of such calls resulted from guidance he gave motel owner John Fernicola to call police in every instance of concern. Police records show 253 incidents at the motel since Feb. 14, 2019.
“Clearly, they falsely claim that they were taking the property for parking when it’s now clear that what they said behind closed doors was that they were going to take it because they didn’t like the type of residents, primarily the winter residents,” Paul Fernicola said.
In response to the Amethyst filing, Mayor Kanitra told The Ocean Star on Wednesday, “Mr. Fernicola, and his cronies, Mr. Santanello and Mr. Migut continue to try and pretend that police calls during the pandemic motivated the borough to acquire his property. But that is simply not the truth, no matter how many times they bring it up and try and insert it into the conversation and legal proceedings. The truth remains, Mr. Fernicola was pushing for the borough to buy his property for parking from the very beginning of our interactions with him.”
Mayor Kanitra said “the borough desperately needs parking and his property is contiguously located next to the second largest revenue generator for the town, the Little Silver Lake lot. It’s clear as day for anyone to see and we believe strongly this lawsuit will be dismissed quickly.”
According to Mr. Kanitra, Councilman Santanello knows that the borough is acquiring the property for parking, disputing Mr. Santanello’s affidavit.
“He literally stated when he voted ‘no’ that if the acquisition was because of the problems at the motel, he would have voted yes, but he voted no because it wasn’t for the reason he had hoped.”
The complaint also claims the borough violated the Open Public Meetings Act when Paul Fernicola was cut off from the March 16 ordinance introduction.
Paul Fernicola posed questions to council members after being advised not to by Mr. Riordan. After asking one more question after being told not to do so, he was removed from the meeting and not let back in.
“I was barred from participating at the public hearing by the mayor and the borough attorney because I asked a question,” said Paul Fernicola.
The complaint claims this action violated the defendant’s statutory rights, which should result in voiding the ordinance adoption.
“We have the audio recording,” he said. “I wasn’t argumentative. I wasn’t yelling. I didn’t use profanity. I wasn’t interfering with the meeting.”
“That’s a classic example of violating freedom of speech,” he added. “Mr. Riordan and the mayor didn’t like my comment so they banned me from the public meeting.”
In response, Mr. Riordan told The Ocean Star, “Paul Fernicola was permitted to speak at both the first reading and at the second reading.
“At the first reading, he was told, consistent with the borough of Point Pleasant Beach’s meeting policy, that he could not ask the governing body questions and he could not as an attorney cross-examine the governing body about a matter that was going to be and is now in litigation.”
Mr. Riordan said after Paul Fernicola refused to follow the directive, he was kicked from the meeting, following meeting policy.
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