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Competitor Approved
by Ron Davis

The owners of a New Jersey supermarket have so far failed in their lengthy efforts to prevent a competitor to locate nearby.

The owners of the supermarket, Village Supermarkets, Inc., lease property in the Township of Hanover. And those owners challenged the Township’s planning board in its approval of construction of a shopping center. The basis of their challenge: that the shopping center would include a Wegmans supermarket, a potential competitor for Village Supermarkets.

Moreover, Village Supermarkets has a leasehold interest in, and would compete with, another nearby grocery store that Village officials say could resume operations sometime in the near future.

At a subsequent public hearing to discuss the issues involved in the matter, Village Supermarket’s representatives attended but oddly did not voice disapproval to the planned shopping market. And, noted the hearing judge at the conclusion of the public hearing: “No local residents or any representation testified in opposition to the application.”

To make matters worse for Village Supermarkets, Hanover proposed and gained approval of a number of modifications to a nearby intersection. Those modifications would likely benefit Hanover, but would not offer any benefits for Village Supermarkets.

Village Supermarkets did, however, later file a complaint, challenging the approval. But the trial judge reviewed the particulars, then denied relief to Village Supermarkets and dismissed Village Supermarket’s complaint.

Village Supermarkets’ next step was an appeal, arguing that the trial judge erred in concluding that:
(1) Village Supermarkets lacks standing to challenge the approvals, and
(2) the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s “exclusive jurisdiction over the traffic improvement excuses Hanover 3201’s failure to submit any useful documents.”

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, on appeal, ultimately had to come to grips with the facts and settle the stalemate. That was especially true of Village Supermarket’s claim that the trial judge erred in concluding that his court lacked standing to challenge the matters presented.”

Stated the judge, Village, as a taxpayer, property owner, and business owner has a sufficient stake in the approval of Hanover 3201’s shopping center to possess and to challenge the Board’s approval. Additionally, the project is significant in scope and might likely impact Village’s Morris Plains location and, in particular, the…retail corridor. The fact that Village is a retail competitor of the proposed Wegmans supermarket by no means eliminates its standing to pursue this litigation.”

The judge added, “Although we part company with the conclusion that Village lacked standing, we find that judge’s remaining determinations unassailable.”

(Village Supermarkets, Inc., v. The Planning Board of the Township of Hanover, on appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County Docker No.L-2159-13.)

Decision: December 2015
Published: January 2016



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