Developer Louis J. Mascaro is suing the township and numerous officials throughout his decade-long battle to build a racetrack off Route 724.Among his complaints is that the township zoning board was stacked to "fix the vote" against his project.
Since May 2000, Mascaro estimates that Union Township has held 70 public meetings concerning his proposed motor-sports racetrack between Red Corner Road and Shed Road. Hours of deliberation resulted in up to 8,000 pages of testimony, he added.
"Certain officials in the township don't want it and illegally held up the due process," he said recently.
Listed as defendants in the complaint are current supervisors Donald Basile, John Salaneck III and Nelson L. Ott Jr., in addition to former supervisors Leslie Rebman and Barbara Cole. Union Township and its zoning hearing board are also named, as is J. Christopher Cuesta, a former member of the zoning board.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, the 83-page complaint states: "For the last 13 years, the (defendants) have engaged in a continuous open and notorious pattern and course of bad faith, obstructive, delaying, malicious and conspiratorial conduct that has unlawfully prohibited, prevented, hindered, obstructed and delayed (Mascaro) from reasonably using and enjoying a large tract of land (i.e. approximately 668 acres) it owns in Union Township."
These actions are "shocking to the conscience" the suit later states. "Millions" in losses are being sought, in addition to punitive damages and attorney fees.
The complaint further accuses Union Township and its elected supervisors of violating Mascaro's constitutionally guaranteed due process rights and privileges.
Frederick Hatt, Union Township solicitor, expressed confidence that the court will find there were no civil rights violations by the township. He won't be taking this case, as the township's insurance company will appoint an attorney.
As of June 5, none of the defendants had received Mascaro's complaint, Hatt said. However, the solicitor has read the document.
One of those defendants, Nelson Ott, said he wished he could speak about the matter but attorneys requested that he avoid commenting. Salaneck declined to comment as well.
Mascaro is not the plaintiff in this case, per se. A corporation of which he is the lone shareholder, Ethan Michael Inc., was set up as the plaintiff.
Eugene LaVerne, Mascaro's attorney, said the company is named after a family member. As for this case, he described the township's actions as "over the top."
"It's preposterous," LaVerne said.
With the economy the way it is, Union officials should welcome a racetrack and the jobs it will create, he added.
"They should be kissing him rather than punching him," the attorney said.
In August 2007, Mascaro received an approved permit for Liberty Bell Motorsports Park and Campground. He hopes to begin construction during the spring of 2009 and open the track that fall.
A letter on his Web site states: "This (zoning) decision allows the project to go forward legally with certain conditions outlined by the Township and agreed to by all parties. This approval will allow us to proceed to the land development permitting process. This is, simply stated, a technical review of the plan as it relates to impacts such as earth disturbance, site grading, sewer, water, landscaping, erosion and sedimentation control, etc. We do not anticipate any problems during this review process."
A land development plan has not yet been submitted.
Mascaro's proposed racetrack has a long history. According to the complaint, his 668 acres were rezoned agricultural preservation in 1995. This action "unlawfully prohibited and excluded all residential development" of the property.
The complaint accuses several of the supervisors of inappropriately trying to influence public opinion about the racetrack, which should feature four separate racing circuits.
Despite the August 2007 permit approval by the zoning hearing board, Union Township appealed the decision, according to Mascaro. His complaint alleges the township failed to appropriate funds in the 2008 budget for the zoning hearing board to challenge this appeal, "while at the same time appropriating whatever money was needed (i.e. possibly $50,000 or more) for special counsel Josele Cleary, Esq., to represent the Township in its attempt."
As for Mascaro's allegation that the zoning hearing board was stacked against his project, his complaint states the board chairman was replaced by J. Christopher Cuesta, who was a "strong and vocal opponent" of the project.