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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ-The New Jersey Builders Association yesterday filed suit to halt the development of Meadowlands Xanadu, Mills Corp. and Mack-Cali Realty’s $1.3-billion, five-million-sf mixed-use project on the site of the Continental Airlines Arena. The group, which represents most of the state’s major homebuilders, wants the project stopped because it includes no residential development, specifically affordable housing.

The suit names as defendants the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which oversees development within the region and has a master plan in place to govern that; the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the state agency that owns the Xanadu site; and the city of East Rutherford. “Even though its plan documents the area’s housing shortage, the Meadowlands Commission has for too long ignored the needs of the region’s workers and their families,” says Patrick O’Keefe, CEO of the group, in a statement.

The suit also creates some unusual relationships, notably the fact that it in effect allies the group with its longtime arch-enemy, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, headed by environmental activist Jeffrey Tittel. Their goals are different, of course–the latter’s existing suit against Xanadu wants it stopped for environmental reasons–while the builders want to use the site for housing. And while the builders’ suit doesn’t mention developers Mills and Mack-Cali, it has the potential of pitting New Jersey’s homebuilders against its major commercial developers.

In response to the action, Susan Bass Levin, the state’s commissioner of community affairs, issued a statement countering that “affordable housing is not the responsibility of the Meadowlands Commission. It is the responsibility of the municipalities. Obviously, the builders association didn’t do its homework.” Bass Levin also notes that a report put together for the State of New Jersey relating to the project includes a requirement that Xanadu’s developers pay this city, the site of the project, as well as the adjacent town of Carlstadt, an unspecified amount of money over the next decade to meet the affordable housing needs created by the project.

Meadowlands Xanadu has been the target of legal action ever since the state awarded the development rights to Mills and Mack-Cali last year. Besides the Sierra Club suit, developer Hartz Mountain Industries, one of the finalists for the project, has ongoing legal action against the state over procedural grounds relating to the selection process. And while not directly related to Xanadu, the Fair Share Housing Center earlier this year sued the NJ Meadowlands Commission, charging that its master plan for the entire region does not specifically include an affordable housing component.

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