A developer has filed a lawsuit against Asbury Park, alleging officials unlawfully rejected a plan to demolish the historic Holy Spirit Church and build a housing development a few blocks from the beach.
Some residents praised the Asbury Park planning board after its Aug. 1 vote rejecting an application submitted by Mountain View Developments, a subsidiary of JLD Investment Group. The proposal called for the demolition of the vacant Catholic Church on Second Avenue and subdivision of the property into six lots with upscale homes.
Despite the rejection of its plan for the property, JLD Investment Group still has a contract to purchase from the Catholic Church, according to the Diocese of Trenton.
In a civil suit filed Oct. 27 in Monmouth County Superior Court, JLD Investment Group seeks the reversal of the August 1 planning board vote. The promoter is also asking for compensation and damages.
JLD Investment Group alleges in the 38-page lawsuit that Asbury Park officials ‘never took the necessary steps to protect the structure [Holy Spirit Church] modification and/or demolition and, in fact, have done everything possible to ensure its destruction.
A lawyer for the city of Asbury Park did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, JLD Investment Group’s original idea was to preserve and repurpose the church, incorporating the structure into a luxury mixed-use development comprising townhouses, affordable multi-family housing and retail space at the detail.
The developer began discussing the redevelopment project with Asbury Park officials in the summer of 2021. At the time, the developer told city officials that the church redevelopment project would not be financially viable without Asbury Park accepting a PILOT – or payment in lieu of tax agreement – to reduce the amount of taxes the company would have to pay on the property.
When JLD Investment Group learned that city officials were opposed to awarding the company a PILOT, the developer said it was “forced to abandon its redevelopment project plan and return to the proverbial ‘drawing board’ to develop an alternative development scenario for the property that would be financially feasible for all parties,” the lawsuit states.
This led JLD Investment Group to come up with plans to demolish the church and build a housing estate. But the project never had a chance of being approved because the planning board’s decision was predetermined, according to the lawsuit.
Behind the scenes, city officials were in conversation with unnamed third parties who expressed their own interest in acquiring the property, according to JLD Investment Group. City officials eventually came to terms with alternative buyers to interfere with JLD Investment Group’s plans, according to the developer.
“It’s illegal, they can’t do that,” said Elisabeth Wendel, the listing’s real estate agent. “What they did was wrong, and now there is a lawsuit against them.”
The case was assigned to Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Lisa P. Thornton, records show. Asbury Park has yet to file a response.
Holy Spirit Church, founded in 1879, is a Gothic-style church located a few blocks from the boardwalk of one of the most visited beaches on the Jersey Shore. Almost as old as the town itself, the 142-year-old Catholic church is the oldest in the Diocese of Trenton and is filled with stained glass windows, marble statues and ornately carved Stations of the Cross.
When it opened in 1880, Holy Spirit was a bustling place of worship for the growing number of Catholics settling near the Jersey Shore. But over time it suffered the same fate as many Catholic institutions – a dwindling membership and growing financial problems.
Catholic Church leaders announced in late October 2020 that the Holy Spirit would close and the building would be sold.
After a final mass in June 2021, the once vibrant historic church has closed.
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jackie roman can be attached to [email protected].