Costs of Village Keepers’ Actions Pass $27K and Counting, Says Town

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Updated Sept. 16 at 10:30 a.m. to add a response from Committeeman Jerry Ryan to Mr. Profeta’s comments.

Updated Sept. 15, 11:15 p.m. with a quote from Village Keepers Inc. board member Fred Profeta.

The legal costs to counter actions by Village Keepers Inc. have topped $27,000 according to Maplewood Township officials.

“Tell the Township Committee how much money this thing has cost us so far and how much more it is going to cost us?” Maplewood Committeeman Jerry Ryan asked Township Counsel Roger Desiderio at the Sept. 15 Township Committee meeting.

Desiderio reported that the total thus far is $27,383.50, but that more legal issues still needed to be addressed. “We still need formal resolution from the [Maplewood Village] Alliance meeting,” said Desiderio, who reported that Jonathan Drill, counsel for the MVA, has billed for $11,000-plus so far and that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Drill billed another $4,000 to $5,000.

In addition, Desiderio said that Planning Board Counsel Michael Edelson had sent a letter on September 10 to Village Keepers’ counsel Richard Schkolnick of Brown Moskowitz & Kallen in which he laid out procedures for handling the appeal by Village Keepers regarding the MVA’s actions. Desiderio noted that the letter said that the Planning Board would entertain written statements and position papers. “I would anticipate that each of these bodies will have to make a determination if they want their counsel to file responses and briefs,” said Desiderio.

Village Keepers, a non-profit formed this past spring by local citizens opposed to the proposed Post House project, filed suit against the town, the MVA and the developer JMF Properties in June, citing procedural missteps in the process to approve the Post House design and site plan. Village Keepers later dropped the suit, but Township officials say that the compliance needed to prompt its withdrawal has generated substantial costs. Village Keepers has also since filed the appeal with the Maplewood Planning Board regarding the MVA’s actions. The Planning Board announced procedures to hear the appeal earlier this month.

Back at tonight’s Township Committee meeting, Ryan asked Desiderio, “So the number quoted is some portion of the authorized $17,500 for the Maplewood Village Alliance?” (The Township Committee has authorized the township to pay up to that amount to cover the MVA’s legal expenses related to the Village Keepers’ legal action.) Desiderio responded that, yes, the MVA’s counsel had thus far billed $11,472.50 toward that amount.

The breakdown of charges billed thus far is:

  • Bendit Weinstock (Desiderio’s firm/counsel for Maplewood Township): $4,256.00
  • McManimon and Scotland (redevelopment counsel): $11,472.50
  • Jonathan Drill (counsel for Maplewood Village Alliance): $11,655

Total to date: $27,383.50.

Village Keepers Inc. board member and former Mayor Fred Profeta responded to a request for comment later in the evening, saying he had left the Township Committee meeting early after delivering a check for more than $16,000 to Township Administrator Joseph Manning (Profeta has pledged $25,000 toward the recently completed improvements to Brook Path).

“Jerry Ryan has no shame,” wrote Profeta via email. “He is counting as ‘VK lawsuit costs’ approximately $20,000 worth of developer’s legal fees, almost all of which are being expended on the site plan review before the Planning Board. The developer, JMF, would have had to apply for site plan approval whether or not Village Keepers had ever commenced litigation. And that litigation has long since been withdrawn. The Planning Board consultant, Bob Bratt, has raised well over 30 objections to that site plan. It is the Planning Board itself which is causing JMF’s legal fees to mount with its detailed questioning and the problems which it is finding relating to parking, provision for truck deliveries, and set back violations. If the Planning Board is being extra careful because of any of the scrutiny which Village Keepers has brought to bear on this process, we are proud of that. And if that is costing the developer money, so be it.”

The “objections” referred to by Profeta were labeled as “comments” by Bratt, in response to his review of the site plan. See Bratt’s comments and the developer’s requested deviations and waivers here.

Since Profeta singled out Ryan in his comments, Ryan asked for an opportunity to respond: “I am not the least bit surprised to see that Fred Profeta’s response to your news article was a personal attack on me. He’s already stood in front of the Planning Board and accused all sorts of people of lying, so what’s one more person to insult?However it is a simple unassailable fact that not a thin dime of these funds would have been spent if not for the Village Keepers filing and withdrawing suits and filing appeals, to say nothing of whatever additional costs their future actions might cause us to incur. Keeping the information about these expenditures a secret, or not telling the truth about them, would be the shameful thing. Mr. Profeta can spin these facts any way he likes, and he can insult me all that he wants, but I think that people can see for themselves what is going on here.”

This story is now closed. We ask that any further arguments be added in the comments section.

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