GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Planning Board has established that member Frank Lucarelli did not act improperly with regard to a controversial proposal to create a local state Parole Board office here.
Lucarelli, a contractor, previously worked wth project developer Antebi Associates' principal Jim Goodwin.
Some board members had brought concerns to Planning Board Chairman Ken Sooy that Lucarelli may have lobbied others to uphold project approvals at a meeting Feb. 4. Sooy said Lucarelli did not approach him.
Board attorney Mike Fitzgerald questioned other officials about Lucarelli's relationship with Goodwin, and what Lucarelli had said privately about the project.
After a half-hour discussion in executive session, board members voted 7-1 Thursday night to clear Luccarelli.
The lone negative vote came from Lisa Tilton, who is also township clerk. She said she does not believe Lucarelli did anything wrong but thinks the board should have had more time to look into and discuss the matter.
The parole office proposal is currently in litigation after the Planning Board reversed its approvals after learning that parolees would be visiting the White Horse Pike site. The township zoning officer determined that a variance would be required for any law-enforcement use of the property.
Soooy said someone overheard Lucarelli talking about the project in a way that made it seem he supported continuing with it, but Fitzgerald and the board determined that nothing unethical happened.
"People heard bits of conversations and drew faulty assumptions," Sooy said. "Anybody can bring a charge against anybody about anything on the board. If (Lucarelli) had done something improper, then he would have had to go for a hearing before council."
Lucarelli declined comment on the vote itself.
Lucarelli voted on the project when it first came before the board in 2008 and again the next year when Goodwin wanted to change site plans. At that time, Lucarelli did not have a contract to work on the development, Sooy said.
But Lucarelli recused himself from the most recent decision Feb. 4, citing the past business relationship with Goodwin.
The rest of the Planning Board voted unanimously that night to revoke the approvals because they believed Antebi and its consultants had not made clear that parolees would be checking in at the site.
Lucarelli told The Press of Atlantic City afterward that his connection to the developer had not changed — he had no financial stake in the project — but he stepped aside as a precaution.
But he said Friday his employer had been negotiating with Goodwin to potentially do work on the site at the time.
"You're talking about semantics. I wasn't trying to avoid any questions or anything. Everybody knows," he said. "I do estimating for a contractor that may have been going to do a job, but they don't even have a contract with him. I had absolutely no business with it."
Goodwin has sued the township and Planning Board in Atlantic County Superior Court. He also filed an objection with the Construction Board of Appeals.
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