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Maplewood Woman's Club is Back on the Market

Original buyer backed out after neighbors sued to block sale.

 

The article has been updated with a comment from Tom Kerns.

After more than three years of lawsuits and delays, The Woman's Club of Maplewood is back on the market, after the original buyer backed out.

The historic property at 60 Woodland Road is currently listed for $1,999,900, according to Caroline Farnsworth of Keller Williams Mid-Town Direct Realty in Maplewood Village.

In March of 2011, , Maplewood resident and co-founder of HK Project, purchased the building for an undisclosed amount. But the completion of the sale has been tied up in a lawsuit since October of that year.

"The decision to suspend the process of purchasing the property was not an easy one, but the reasons for doing so are personal," said Kerns in an email to Patch. "I am saddened that I had to make this decision especially for what it means to the community, but I will continue to focus on engaging our community through our work at HK Project, including finding ways to continue to support the arts through Studio B, our performing arts division."

The property first went on the market in August of 2010 for an asking price of $2.4 million. In February of that year, Maplewood Township had brought suit against the Woman's Club claiming that it should be paying taxes on the property because it was renting to for-profit ventures.

The Township and the Woman's Club eventually came to a settlement stipulating that the Woman's Club pay $55,000 in lieu of taxes to the Township over five years. The club said it could not afford the sum and would be forced to relocate and sell. The property remained tax exempt and the Township dropped its suit.

When Kerns purchased the property, the price was speculated to be much lower than asking because he agreed not to raze the building or build additions. Kerns would not receive any tax abatements from the town. 

Kerns said he wanted to restore the club to be used for community events as well as weddings and other events. "I have the opportunity to create a space that is popular with the community. But also do it in such a way that it's a benefit to the village," said Kerns in an interview with Patch shortly after the sale.

That summer, the Maplewood Zoning Board of Adjustment granted Lamona a variance for continuation of a non-conforming use, allowing the sale to move forward. But, in October, Woodland and Inwood Road neighbors sued the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Lamona LLC challenging the variance.  The neighbors had appeared at the ZBA meeting in June to complain of noise and traffic related to events at the building.

Althought Kerns offered concessions stipulating that the use of amplified music would be limited to certain times, and that a parking solution would be found, the lawsuit dragged on without resolution.

Patch has reached out to Kerns for comment and will update this story as more information becomes available.

Hank Zona January 28, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I believe this had nothing to do with those who brought suit having great lawyers...the only thing the lawsuit did was hold up the process...their suit was not upheld. I dont think you'll see two or three private homes there, but most likely another "townhome/condo" development, or, what almost happened previously, a long term care Alzheimers facility or some other such buyer. That purchaser not only wanted to put in the long term care facility, but wanted the town to exercise eminent domain to take over some adjacent properties in order see their vision through. Cant happen? Historically, small towns cant fight deep pocketed companies because eventually the legal fees cant be justified. So yes, its a sad turn of events.
Hank Zona January 28, 2013 at 02:29 PM
this really had nothing to do with the neighbors or a great lawyer...they didnt wear down the opposition or win any court case...the only thing their suit did was drag out the purchase to a point in time where the buyer had to back out for personal reasons. what would you like to see in that space? The next likely purchaser two and a half years ago was going to put in a long term care facility for Alzheimer's patients and wanted eminient domain concessions that the town very likely could not have fought...is that better?
Lee Navlen January 28, 2013 at 02:32 PM
Well whatever the case, the neighbors feared noise levels and traffic so they did what they felt they needed to do. Mr. Kearns did what he felt he needed to do. Maybe we need to do something drastic. How about we move Town Hall to the WC,and sell Town Hall to a developer. With upgrades, the WC could easily function as an old school TH with plenty of parking to boot. A developer could have a field day with TH. More high end rentals like the former Police Station development.
unleb January 28, 2013 at 02:35 PM
I really wonder what the neighborhood hopes to accomplish by blocking/stalling this? Can anyone tell me what they HOPE will happen to that property? I thought the HK plan was great, and Hank brings up some frightening alternatives... what did/do the neighbors want, and how do they expect to get it?
Geralyn Robinson January 28, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Such a pity that the Woman's Club is now going to sit and decay further or worse be torn down some day. What a beautiful building, what history is connected with it. I was a member of the Junior Woman's Club of Maplewood for over 10 years, we had events there monthly and had large groups attend these events. People did not linger around the parking lot after the event was over, the noise what not that would keep people up or wake them up from there sleep. There were also weddings held there, church groups had they services there - it was the only way that the Woman's Club could make money to survive. And now when the town has someone who was willing to renovate and keep the building in the original style - this is a problem? What am I missing? Maplewood is a very unique small town for many reasons, the Woman's Club is part of that uniqueness - it's what makes out town stand out from others. So yes, it is a sad that Mr. Kearns has pulled out of the deal but who needs that drama in their lives I would probably have done the same.
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Wendy, as an Inwood neighbor (although not involved in the lawsuit) I believe the core issue came down to a lack of trust between Tom and the neighbors. All good people, Tom included, but if trust cannot be developed people find other means - lawsuits. While Tom did offer concessions the neighbors who were opposed did not trust a mutually beneficial parking and noise solution would be accommodated by Tom, and the Town. Later - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Vic, the TC, and the Village Alliance have shared that they are focused on making the Village a destination. With this goal, I think it is imperative upon them to play a leadership role in attracting the right business for the town. Later - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Hank, I can yell you that the neighbors believed in their opinions and there intent was not to drag out the process so Tom had to back out. In the end, Tom decided to back out. I am not sure if a long-term patient care is better - and I don't believe the town should provide concessions that are not in the best interest of the town. Let's see what evolves and save the doomsday thinking until we know the options. Maybe Vic and the TC can engage the community in defining and exploring some creative solutions. Vic? Thanks - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:31 PM
CJV, when I heard you refer to my neighbors as lowlifes I again wondered if people would be more thoughtful in what they say and write if they identified who they were. Why the secrecy? Thanks - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:35 PM
Clive, I agree with your initial point - if both parties had tried to build a mutual level of trust, or even found a mediator I believe this could have and could be worked out. They were actually not that far apart when they walked away and found attorneys. There are options beyond Tom, not as good, but it will be vital for the the Mayor and TC to play an influential role. - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:42 PM
unleb, Tom's concept was great - this was not the issue. The issue was that there was a lack of clarity on the details - the operation of the venue - 1) A detailed parking solution when the venue hosts multiple events on weekends. The WC average 1-2 events per month, not including Church services. As a for profit business Tom was clear that he would need to book many more events. 2) Sound - the sound "expert" that spoke on Tom's behalf did not help his cause as more questions were raised than answered. The hope is that there will be a mutually-beneficial solution - for the owner, the Town, and for local neighbors. It is possible - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Geralyn, I think it is important to look at the details to realize the operations of the WC the past few years, and Tom's plans as a for-profit venue are vastly different to realize this is an apples and oranges comparison. I can only speak for the last 8 years or so, when I have lived adjacent to the WC, during which time the number of events has increased due to the financial struggles of the WC. the level of noise has increased and is more frequent, the parking has been an issue, and there have been a number of altercations related to WC events. The WC manager did little or nothing to manage the events, even when complaints were made. - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 05:59 PM
To be clear here is my personal position: The WC facility should be viewed as an important part of the fabric of Maplewood. Personally, I believe the issues between Tom and the neighbors could have been, and could be, worked out. Wouldn't it be amazing for a town that takes pride in it's diversity to find a mutually-beneficial solution despite their well-intentioned disparate opinions on the issue? I think a solution needs to start with mutual respect. As I shared in an earlier comment, I have gotten to know Tom and most of the neighbors involved over the past two years. They are all good people, with good intentions, who have disparate opinions on the same issue. You might even call this a common aspect of diversity - we all look at the same issue with different eyes. If Tom or the neighbors do not want to, or believe, they can find common ground than let's put our collective creativity together and find such a solution. Have a good day - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Nick, "tell" not "yell"! - John
Lee Navlen January 28, 2013 at 07:36 PM
John, It seems to me as if the neighbors have won. They don't want excess noise and they don't want excess traffic. I view the situation as being one where unless the structure is used as some type of facility that doesn't create noise like a nursing home, there really isn't anything that can be done with this building. It's not like the neighbors are all of a sudden going to say, ok, you can throw weddings there but only until 11PM, etc. Kearns does not need the building or the headache. It's probably a lost cause to think he wants to go back for a round two.
Hank Zona January 28, 2013 at 07:37 PM
John...I know you to be a thoughtful and direct person...my thinking is not doomsday...its based in the reality of what the other most viable purchaser was at the time, as you may know. And the town will do whats in the community's best interest, as best they can, burt they ultimately can only fight a deep pocketed corporate buyer for only so long. That was almost the reality of the situation before Tom's offer...not a doomsday prediction.
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Hank, where we differ is the assumption that a deep-pocketed corporate buyer is the only solution. I don't believe this needs to be true. It will also be imperative upon the Women's Club organization and the realtor to market the property to buyers with the limitations clearly identified. later - John
John Harvey January 28, 2013 at 08:45 PM
Lee, interestingly there was not that much distance between what the neighbors needed and what Tom felt he needed. Agreement on the time limits and frequency of events were getting close. The issues where the parties were further apart was parking and noise control. In my mind, the lack of progress was due to the lack of a tangible solution - there was no parking plan, and the noise solution that was presented was not believed by the neighbors. Later - John
CJV January 28, 2013 at 10:47 PM
One thing I'm unclear about is whether the neighbors allege illegal parking or noise violations of town ordinances with the WC events. These neighbors do not own their streets in front of their homes and anyone is free to lawfully park on them. And, people are free to make noise within reason during many hours of the day- these neighbors are not entitled to special noise protections not available to the rest of us.
JoeF January 29, 2013 at 01:39 AM
What a shame that this all happened due to greed (tax and lose) on part of the town. The WC was a fine institution that was started 'back then' when women had very limited options with no social aspects outside of marriage. The place should have a heritage grant placed upon it and have historic funds come forth and fix it all up. It is a grand bit of the past just like dear ole' CHS has upon the town's history - it's original floor-plan "A Wing" was illustrated in the Enc. Britannica as an ideal school ! The WC should be saved and kept pristine for all the future to look back and see how pristine things looked along with the remaining gas lamps still around in nearby So. Orange (really want to see them, go to Glen Ridge - THE ONLY TOWN IN THE NATION STILL ENTIRELY LIT BY GAS LASMPS) We need to keep history for the future. Mere destruction leaves nothing of value behind. sure hope Maplewood does the right thing and save for our children!!!
John Harvey January 29, 2013 at 03:42 AM
CJV, with your keen interest in this issue you might find value in reviewing related documents that are on file with the Town. Since Lamona LLC was seeking a change of use for the venue they are for creating a plan that provides a minimum number of parking spaces to accomodate events. In the end, the onsite parking available was not adequate for a venue of this size. There were suggestions that they should work a deal with a place like St. George's or Morrow to use their parking to achieve the required threshold, but I am not sure how that potential parking solution evolved. The noise issue is also addressed in a town ordinance. The ordinance calls specific decibel limits at certain times in town - lower at 9 PM, and considerably lower at 11 PM. If a compromise could not be worked out the neighbors would be within their right to contact police when the noise exceeded the ordinance. Naturally, neither Tom nor the neighbors wanted this to be the case. So, this is not about the neighbor's expecting special treatment, as you wrote. It is about the planning required of a business that would have a significant impact on parking and noise in the Village. Without a clear, tangible solution to both issues there is no way, in my mind, that compromise was possible. Later - John
CJV January 29, 2013 at 08:25 AM
John, you've suggested several times that the Mayor and TC "get involved." I encourage anyone who believes your suggestion they have not, or that somehow they are apathetic to this project instead of strong supporters of it, to read the prior Patch article on the subject: http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/womans-club-buyer-gets-use-variance-sale-moves-forward
CJV January 29, 2013 at 08:46 AM
PS John, reviewing such documents leads to the neighbors demanding a parking plan that does not use on-street parking, as I expected and as you falsely denied. Reminding again, the street in front of your home is not yours- it belongs to the common good, and that includes those of us who wish to see downtown develop further and our tax base increase.
Lee Navlen January 29, 2013 at 04:49 PM
JoeF, The township committee including Mayor De Luca voted against such a designation, instead granting it SID. In other words, that shipped has sailed.
gheri burke January 29, 2013 at 07:18 PM
I remember attending my best friends wedding @ the WC and it was absolutely beautiful all those years ago. When my grand-daughter was about to turn16 and we were in the planning stages of her celebration I remembered the WC and considered it as a possible venue unitl we went to view it. I was really surprised that the property was left unkept and appeared delapitated. A property that holds such magnificant character should not be wasted but given its life back. It's funny that we will complain about small things but what about when your out and about enjoying the theather, concerts or other forms of entertainment in someone else's back yard (so to speak) what about where they think you should go!! There is a solution for almost every problem its a SHAME one couldn't be remedied for such a beautiful space. So now since there was no solution; who's problem is it??? Whose afraid of progression/change is sometimes warranted !!!!
John Harvey January 30, 2013 at 01:29 AM
CJV, I did not write in this thread or suggest that the Mayor and the TC should "get involved" in this issue, as you quoted me in your post. I did write, the Mayor and/or TC " ....they can play a leadership role", that "they can engage the community...", and they can "... play an influential role.". All of which I believe. In my opinion, the Mayor was very involved when the approval was pending, and I never wrote or implied that anyone, including the Mayor was apathetic on the issue. Later - John
John Harvey January 30, 2013 at 01:38 AM
CJV, it was not the neighbors demanding a parking plan it was Township zoning requiring a specific number of parking spaces provided by the owner based on the change of use, and the new focus of the venue. I agree that on-the-street parking is for the common good, although my side of Inwood is a "no parking" zone. And trust, that someone can still support the Village developing and increasing our tax base while also disagreeing with the parking plan that was provided. I am not sure what you mean when you say, "as I expected, you falsely denied...". Any clarity you can provide would be appreciated. Thanks - John
CJV January 30, 2013 at 03:13 AM
John, the neighbors challenged a granting of a variance by the Township. The Township was satisfied with the plans. You've tried to blame the TC for not being involved, which is untrue, and now you've tried to blame the TC for requiring onsite parking for this project, which is untrue.
John Harvey January 30, 2013 at 03:51 PM
CJV, you continue to allege that I blamed the Mayor or the TC for not being involved. Is there anything I can say or write to convince you that this has not been my contention? I have written the TC could be/should be more engaged, more influential, and exhibit more leadership on the issue, but I do not believe I ever said not involved. The variance was not given by the TC, but provided by the zoning requirements. It may be a surprise to you but many people do not trust the intentions of politicians and/or zoning boards. I was at some of the meetings and believe the Board disregarded the parking requirement in providing the variance, without good cause - there were experts on both sides of the aisle. The neighbors did not trust the decision of the Board, and were concerned with the problems the variance would create. So, they, used the solutions available to them to contest the variance. Why should they be considered lowlifes for following the available channels for resolution? To your second point, it is the zoning requirements that determines the amount of parking required based on the use of the property - not the TC. CJV, you have called neighbors lowlifes, you have quoted me incorrectly more than once, and now you are sharing my alleged mis-truths. I still wonder if the conversation would be more constructive and respectful if you shared who you are. Just a thought - John
CJV February 06, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Carolyn, I noticed the TC last night introduced a parking change for Woodland. Can you tell me what this is about?

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