Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca has reported that the town spent more than $7,500 through the end of June on legal costs related to a lawsuit filed by Village Keepers Inc.
“I signed purchase orders for legal bills related to the Village Keeper’s lawsuit for legal work through the end of June that total more than $7,500,” wrote DeLuca in an email in response to a request from The Village Green. “This amount includes attorneys for the Maplewood Village Alliance and the Township. It does not yet include the cost for any additional legal work by the Planning Board’s attorney.”
Village Keepers Inc. — a non-profit formed in March by local citizens to oppose the proposed Post House development — served the Township, the Maplewood Village Alliance, and the developer of the site with a lawsuit in June. (Read the particulars of the suit here.) Village Keepers board members announced on July 6 that it had dropped the litigation because, they said, the township agreed to “comply” with the complaint. The notice of dismissal was filed with the Superior Court on July 20.
However, in August, Village Keepers filed an appeal with the Maplewood Planning Board (see below), requesting the Planning Board postpone its August 11 hearing until the board addresses VK’s assertion that the building’s owner must demonstrate financial hardship before being allowed to demolish the current Post Office. VK is also seeking to have Mayor Vic DeLuca and Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan, who both serve as Township liaisons on the planning board, recuse themselves from any decision involving the project.
Planning Board Chair Tom Carlson announced at the August 11 meeting that the Planning Board would move forward with the site plan hearing that night due to the late filing of the appeal, but would address the issues raised in the VK’s appeal at the Planning Board’s September 8 meeting.
Regarding the costs cited by Mayor DeLuca, Village Keepers Board member Fred Profeta disputed the numbers at a Township Committee meeting earlier this month.
In an email followup to Village Green, Profeta said, “This was not accurate. The Village Keeper litigation only requested one thing — that the town and the developer obey the demolition ordinance and take the issue of ‘significant financial hardship’ to the Alliance Board and the Planning Board. We filed a complaint. We did nothing else. The town and the developer never even answered that complaint. They asked us if we would withdraw the complaint if they agreed make the hardship case before the Alliance Board and the Planning Board. We said yes and filed a stipulation of dismissal.”
Profeta stated further, “The work which the town did because of this complaint could not have amounted to more than a couple of emails and phone calls. It would surprise me if that resulted in more than $2,000-$3,000 in legal expenses. If the town’s legal expenses are [greater] that is because it is counting the expense of having made a presentation before the Alliance Board. But it should not be counting this because that presentation was required by its own demolition ordinance, passed by the TC in December of 2014. It should have made that presentation without the need for Village Keepers to file a complaint.”
Finally, Profeta wrote, “Then there is the question of who should be paying for the town’s legal expenses. The town should investigate whether this is properly the developer’s obligation.”
Asked whether the township would consider seeking to have Village Keepers reimburse the township for legal costs related to the dropped suit or any subsequent legal action deemed frivolous (under NJ Statute 2A:15-59.1), DeLuca responded: “The question has to do with legal strategy and I will not discuss it at this time.”
The Village Green is filing an open public records request with the Maplewood Township Counsel to obtain the purchase orders related to legal bills connected to the Village Keepers, Inc. legal actions.