Thomas J. Trautner Jr. is an experienced real estate development lawyer, with a diverse practice serving as counselor, strategic architect and (when the situation calls) litigator. He excels in helping clients navigate the entitlements process through his breath of knowledge regarding often Byzantine subjects, among which include redevelopment, eminent domain and affordable housing (allowing him to cost-effectively provide guidance on a broad range of issues without the need to involve other subject matter specialists).
First trained by savages as a young commercial litigator, Tom’s practice often focused on affordable housing and eminent domain — evolving from his experience as a law clerk to the Honorable Eugene D. Serpentelli, A.J.S.C., one of the State’s original Mount Laurel Judges and a maven in the world of land use and real estate litigation. Ultimately, his practice evolved to include virtually all facets of the entitlements and redevelopment process.
As a seasoned litigator possessing a nuanced understanding of the complex regulatory scheme impacting the entitlements process, Tom is able to spot issues early and advise clients on how to avoid obstacles. His ability to draw upon his comprehensive background and experience (whether negotiating a redevelopment agreement, appearing before a hostile land use board or arguing before the New Jersey Supreme Court) affords a level of confidence and competence to find innovative approaches to getting projects timely approved and timely built while simultaneously managing costs.
Redevelopment and Land Use
Tom regularly counsels clients on applications for development to planning and zoning boards as well as state agencies in connection with retail, hotel, industrial, residential and mixed-use projects. He likewise focuses a substantial amount of his practice in assisting clients in securing or opposing redevelopment designations, negotiating redevelopment agreements and navigating the process of developing favorable redevelopment plans to allow his clients to succeed when designated as a redeveloper.
By virtue of his representation of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and other governmental agencies (as well as private property owners), Tom possesses substantial knowledge and practical experience in addressing condemnation scenarios (including relocation assistance disputes) both in and outside of redevelopment. His experience spans retail, warehouse, apartment buildings and hotel properties (including properties with valuations in excess of $20 million). Tom is likewise experienced handling matters concerning undeveloped land and vacant industrial/commercial properties in urban environments — including properties requiring environmental remediation.
As a result of his diverse experience counseling developers, municipalities and trade organizations, Tom has developed a deep understanding of affordable housing issues in New Jersey (having looked at virtually every issue from one side or another). As a young associate, he co-authored an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Properties in the appellate division case that overturned COAH’s Third Round Rules. In recent years, Tom has been at the forefront of helping his clients navigate the uncertainty of the affordable housing landscape before the New Jersey Courts while also being intimately involved in the preparation of briefs and arguments to the New Jersey Supreme Court on evolving issues.
Tom has represented numerous developers in negotiating and, when necessary, litigating condominium transition matters — including one matter where the developer faced over $80 million dollars in claims. Through aggressive and creative advocacy (in part, involving third-party claims against the condominium board of directors as well as a derivative shareholder action), the client was ultimately pleased by having the matter tied up in the Court for years, during which time certain Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act and related claims were dismissed and the matter was settled on very favorable terms.
Real Estate Litigation
Tenacious litigator is the phrase used to describe Tom in real estate litigation. Tom has achieved documented success on behalf of his clients, focusing on litigation arising from applications for development, contract disputes, property rights and actions to quiet title. He frequently argues in the New Jersey Appellate Division and has twice argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court helping to establish statewide legal precedent.
Tom is a graduate of Rutgers School of Law and a cum laude graduate of Rider University. While attending Rutgers School of Law, he served as co-chairman of the Moot Court Board and had the distinction of being named to the school’s 1998 national moot court team. Prior to joining the firm, Tom served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Eugene D. Serpentelli, Assignment Judge, Superior Court of New Jersey in Ocean County.
Redevelopment and Land Use
- A redevelopment project involving a mixed-use project spanning two multi-story buildings with approximately 200 residential units, 50,000 SF of retail and public arts space, 35,000 SF of office space and structured parking.
- A redevelopment project involving approximately 300 residential units with rooftop amenities.
- A redevelopment project involving a 37 story high-rise mixed-use building with approximately 400 residential units and ground floor retail.
- A redevelopment project involving an 18 story mid-rise mixed use building with approximately 260 residential units and ground floor retail.
- A redevelopment project involving a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar.
- A redevelopment project involving two mixed-use buildings with approximately 250 residential units, 25,000 SF of office space and 30,000 SF of retail space.
- A redevelopment project involving the development of multiple industrial buildings.
- A redevelopment project involving an industrial building and off-site affordable housing units.
- Two redevelopment projects involving mixed-use retail and residential development anchored by proposed grocery stores.
- Applications for shopping center approvals in multiple municipalities.
- Applications for skilled nursing and assisted living facility approvals in numerous municipalities for national corporate clients.
- Applications for signage approvals in numerous municipalities for a national retail client undertaking re-branding efforts.
- Applications for zoning certificate approvals from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for industrial projects.
- Opposition to the land use approval of a religious center proposed in a residential neighborhood.
- Applications for seasonal retail store approvals for a national retail client.
- An application for approval of a fast casual restaurant for a multi-state chain restaurant.
- An application for approval of a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.
- An application for an amended site plan approval for a rooftop amenity deck on a mid-rise apartment building in an urban setting.
- An application for zoning certificate approval from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for a utility company infrastructure facility.
- Opposition to zoning board approval of proposed mining operations alleged to have been a pre-existing non-conforming use.
- The condemnation of a hospital with a disputed valuation in the tens of millions range with complex issues concerning: (1) the relocation of medical and mental health treatment facilities; and (2) bad faith and fraud claims involving the interplay of a dysfunctional commercial condominium.
- The condemnation of a refrigerated warehouse distribution center with a disputed valuation in the tens of millions range with complex relocation issues, the litigation of bad faith claims and the pursuit of eviction proceedings.
- The condemnation of a warehouse distribution center alleged to be logistically critical to the distribution of retail apparel throughout the eastern portion of the United States thereby implicating: (1) disputed valuation claims in the tens of millions range; and (2) complex relocation arguments.
- The condemnation of vacant industrial property with significant environmental remediation issues (involving the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a party).
- The condemnation of an apartment building involving: (1) complex relocation issues; (2) the litigation of bad faith claims and (3) the eviction of the owner and occupants.
- The partial condemnation of a gas station involving both environmental remediation issues and motor vehicle access issues.
- The condemnation of property tenanted by a used car lot and billboard.
- The condemnation of vacant land with disputed environmental constraints impacting the alleged highest and best use for commercial development.
- The partial condemnation of a hotel property involving disputed claims regarding the impact on motor vehicle access and parking.
- The partial condemnation of an aerial easement involving disputed issues concerning a railroad right of way.
- The condemnation of vacant property with disputed development potential and disputed ownership involving a need to quiet title among heirs through the resolution of a significant probate dispute.
- The condemnation of vacant property involving a complex quiet title dispute between two state agencies and a municipality.
- The condemnation of abandoned industrial property with significant environmental remediation issues and a need to quiet title.
- The partial condemnation of a restaurant involving disputed claims regarding the impact on motor vehicle access and parking.
- The partial condemnation of a property tenanted by a gas station and utilized for truck-stop parking involving disputed issues as to what uses were, in fact, permitted.
- The partial condemnation of an automotive dealership.
- The partial condemnation of property owned by the Catholic Church.
- The condemnation of an industrial storage and processing facility with complex relocation and tidelands grant issues.
- The representation of a developer seeking to build over a thousand residential units with an affordable component in hotly contested declaratory judgement litigation regarding a municipality’s alleged compliance with its affordable housing mandate.
- The representation of a developer seeking to build a mixed-use project with an affordable component in declaratory judgement litigation regarding a municipality’s alleged compliance with its affordable housing mandate.
- The representation of a developer seeking to build an industrial project with an off-site affordable component in declaratory judgement litigation regarding a municipality’s alleged compliance with its affordable housing mandate — all of which is intertwined under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
- The representation of a developer in mediation before the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (“COAH”) to negotiate the approval of a mixed-use retail project that included approximately 100 residential units with an affordable component.
- The representation of a municipality in declaratory judgement litigation to affirm compliance with its affordable housing obligation (including significant appellate practice in connection with the Mount Laurel IV decision).
- The representation of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks in the appeal of the COAH’s Third Round Regulations.
- The representation of a purchaser of an affordable housing unit at a Sheriff’s Sale in affirming through litigation the termination of the affordable housing deed restriction.
- The representation of a municipality in connection with its petition for substantive certification to COAH under its Third Round Regulations.
- The representation of a municipality in opposing the foreclosure and Sheriff’s Sale of affordable units.
- The representation of a municipality in mediation before COAH to oppose the mandatory inclusion of a residential affordable housing project.
- The representation of a developer in complex transition litigation where: (1) the condominium asserted claims for construction defect, Consumer Fraud Act and Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act (“PREDFDA”) claims designed to pierce the corporate veil and obtain damages in excess of $80 million; and (2) the developer asserted third-party claims and a derivative shareholder action against the condominium board of directors and the property management firm for, among other things, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.
- The representation of a developer in hotly contested transition litigation involving multi-million dollar claims alleging, amount other things, construction defects, the presence of toxic mold, breach of fiduciary duty and improperly funded reserves.
- The representation of a group of unit owners in a lawsuit against the condominium board of directors and property management firm in connection with multi-million dollar claims alleging a failure to timely address improperly installed EIFS (synthetic stucco) resulting in a catastrophic special assessment to the association.
Real Estate Litigation
- The representation of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), first in appealing the denial of a site plan application, and after settling that litigation (through a “Whispering Woods” hearing), litigating an appeal commenced by an objector to the settlement. At stake in both lawsuits were issues related to alleged unrecorded conditions of prior approvals, the proper jurisdiction between planning boards and zoning boards, the limited ability for planning boards to deny applications involving permitted uses (or to impose unreasonable conditions) and the procedural requirements to settle land use litigation.
- The representation of a company engaged in wetlands mitigation on agricultural property in lawsuits concerning appeals of zoning interpretations and, in one instance, the denial of a use variance application. At stake in both lawsuits were questions related to: (1) whether wetlands mitigation is, in fact, a use of land; (2) the interplay between wetlands and agriculture; and (3) the possible preemption of local zoning where wetlands mitigation is concerned.
- The representation of a developer in litigation concerning the dismissal of an allegedly inactive site plan application. At issue in the litigation were questions related to the interplay between the time of application rule, a planning board’s “completeness determination” and the filing of a “complete” application.
- The representation of a property owner in litigation concerning a developer’s alleged efforts to circumvent a deed restriction. At issue in the litigation (argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court) were questions regarding: (1) what constitutes “changed circumstances” so to vacate a deed restriction; and (2) the remedy for a developer’s unclean hands where the deed restriction’s purpose is alleged to be uncertain.
- The representation of a redeveloper in litigation challenging a municipal governing body’s approval of an amendment to the redevelopment plan where two members of the governing body where alleged to have a conflict of interest. At issue in the litigation (argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court and establishing statewide legal precedent) was the interpretation of direct and indirect conflicts of interests for council members belonging to organizations that own or have an interest in property potentially impacted by the subject of an ordinance.
- The representation of the U.S. subsidiary of a global oil and gas company in connection with the overturning of an ordinance rezoning a refinery so as to render its operations nonconforming. At issue in the litigation were questions regarding: (1) the reasonable design of the ordinance to achieve its purported goal without imposing unnecessary and excessive restrictions; and (2) questions regarding inverse spot zoning.
- The representation of a municipality in litigation to defend an ordinance regulating mining operations. At issue in the litigation were questions regarding: (1) the potential limits of municipal authority to regulate soil removal and resource extraction; (2) potential preemption issues involving the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) where municipalities seek to protect threatened and endangered wildlife and plant species; (3) the potential limits to vesting discretion in municipal officials to evaluate permit applications; and (4) propriety of an alleged inverse condemnation claim.
- The representation of a municipality in connection with a petition for deannexation by certain residents who wished to secede to a neighboring municipality.
- The representation of a utility company in litigation seeking to relocate right-of-way easements over farmland subject to a preservation easement (involving both a county agricultural development board and the State Agricultural Development Committee). At issue in the litigation was the Court’s broad discretionary power to fashion equitable remedies in the interest of justice.
- The litigation defense of a utility company in connection with claims asserted by a well-funded private property owner alleging inverse condemnation, nuisance, trespass, diminution of property value and related tort claims concerning electromagnetic frequency (“EMF”) in response to a reliability upgrade project.
- The representation of a utility company in connection with litigation arising out of the management and operation of an urban municipality’s water treatment, water distribution and wastewater collection system where the municipality alleged damaged in the tens of millions range for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment and related claims related to alleged unaccounted for water and the utility alleged claims in excess of $10 million for breach of contract.
- The representation of a private property owner in connection with civil litigation arising out of the land use approval of a mosque.
- Board of Directors, New Jersey State Bar Association - Land Use Law Section
- American Bar Association
- New Jersey State Bar Association
- Pennsylvania Bar Association
Planning to Protect a Difficult Neighbor During Construction (April 24, 2017)
Roundtable: What Are the Biggest Challenges to Construction and Redevelopment in New Jersey? (April 16, 2017)
NJ High Court Boosts Towns in Enviro Zoning Fights (January 22, 2015)
NJ High Court Could Give Towns More Ammo in Zoning Battles (November 7, 2014)
Making a Good-Faith Offer for Contaminated Property (October 7, 2014)
Litigation On The Horizon: New COAH Rules Dramatically Increase Developers' Obligations (May 2008)
Mold: Should your client be worried about it? Don't dismiss the danger (March/April 2004)
New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education: 2019 Land Use Update (February 27, 2019)
Urban Land Institute Development 360 - Entitlements (February 13, 2019)
New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education: 2019 Annual Redevelopment Law Institute (February 8, 2019)
Introduction to Land Use for Transactional Attorneys: Morris Essex Inn of Transactional Counsel (January 9, 2019)
New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education: The Land Use Institute (December 12, 2018)
ULI-NNJ Suburban/Urban Redevelopment Marketplace (October 30, 2018)
Urban Land Institute Development 360 - Financing Development Opportunities (June 18, 2018)
The Hudson Valley Affordable Housing Summit: The Builders Remedy to the Affordable Housing Problem. Is it Enough? (April 26, 2018)
Urban Land Institute of Northern New Jersey: Real Struggles, Real Solutions - Transit-Oriented Redevelopment Amidst New Jersey's Housing Litigation Mess (April 16, 2018)
New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education: 2018 Land Use Update (February 28, 2018)
Development 360: Introduction to the Development Process (February 13, 2018)
New Jersey Planning Conference: Big "R", little "r": 2017 Highlights of Redevelopment and redevelopment (January 25, 2018)
New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education: The Land Use Institute (December 13, 2017)
A Setback for Real Estate Developers as Courts Begin Reviewing Municipal Affordable Housing Plans (July 2015)
The New Jersey Supreme Court Revisits Redevelopment and Eminent Domain - Is This a Retreat from Gallenthin? (March 2015)
Good News: The Supreme Court Has Created a Path to Resolve Affordable Housing Uncertainty; Bad News: The Path is Through Litigation (March 2015)
COAH Update: November 24, 2009 Deadline To Seek Refund Of Fees Paid Under Statewide Non-Residential Development Fee Act (November 2009)
Understanding The Statewide Non-Residential Development Fee Act (August 2008)
Wolff & Samson's Thomas Trautner Named to NJLJ "New Leaders of the Bar” (July 30, 2013)
Wolff & Samson Announces New Members and Counsel (January 1, 2010)
Thomas J. Trautner appointed to the editorial board of the New Jersey Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (January 30, 2007)