Village Keepers Sues Town, MVA Over Post House Development

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The story has been updated with a comment from the director of Village Keepers, Inc.

A civil suit by Village Keepers Inc. was served to the Township of Maplewood, the developer of the Post House project, and the Maplewood Village Alliance Special Improvement District — or MVA — this afternoon.

“The Village Keepers has served this complaint to reserve the citizenry’s legal rights going forward,” wrote Dirk Olin, director of Village Keepers, in an email to Village Green. “We are saddened by this, but feel compelled by the violations of law and disregard for will of the people that the entire process has represented. We are hopeful that the decision makers realize the folly of pursuing this out-of-scale, financially non-sensical demolition and development.  Even more, we are eager to help convene a discussion among relevant stakeholders to help realize an environmentally responsible alternative that truly enhances our special community.”

When reached for comment, both Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and Township Counsel Roger Desiderio said that the township does not comment on pending litigation.

The proposed Post House project at the site of the former Maplewood Post Office has become a contentious subject this year, as opponents object to its height, mass, economic incentives, and failure to re-use the current post office structure. Opponents have also raised other concerns, including its economic impact on other Maplewood Village businesses.

The proposed development, by JMF Properties, would involve demolition of the old post office building and new construction comprised of ground-floor commercial space and two upper floors of 20 rental apartments, plus a partially visible subfloor and parking. Unlike the present post office building, the new building would offer circulation around the building since it would not back up all the way to the New Jersey Transit train tracks. Proponents, such as Mayor Vic DeLuca, say the building will have a positive impact on the Village’s economy.

Greg Lembrich, a vocal opponent of the project, was the lead vote-getter in the Democratic Primary for Township Committee last Tuesday, in the process ousting incumbent Jerry Ryan, a proponent of the project.

A copy of the civil suit is attached below.

In the suit, Village Keepers cites several counts.

The first count involves a section of the MVA’s Design Criteria that states that a property owner show “significant financial hardship” in seeking approval to demolish a property within the special improvement district. The suit alleges that the MVA failed in its duty when it denied a motion regarding this section of the criteria at its April 8 meeting.

The second count involves a complaint that the neither the MVA nor its Post Office Development Review Subcommittee reviewed a proper site plan for the development before approving the PODRS’ recommendations on May 6, as allegedly required by the redevelopment plan.

The third count is that the MVA’s decisions with regard to the first two counts were “arbitrary and capricious.”

The suit asks that the MVA’s decision of April 8 and May 6 be set aside and that the Alliance be made to reconsider the design criteria section related to demolition and hardship as well as a full and complete site plan.

The Township of Maplewood is named in the suit as owner of the property. Maplewood Redevelopers LLC (an entity created by JMF Properties) is named as the designed developer of the site.

Richard Schkolnick of Brown Moskowitz & Kallen P.C. in Summit, NJ is representing Village Keepers.

Today’s suit is in addition to a recent appeal filed by the Village Keepers to the Maplewood Planning Board.

Village Green will be reaching out to all parties for comment.

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