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Woman's Club Neighbors Sue Zoning Board, Buyer

Several residents of Woodland Road are suing to appeal the decision of the Maplewood Zoning Board granting an use variance to the new owner of the Woman's Club building.

Updated 3:04 p.m. The story now contains comments from one of the plaintiffs. When reached for comment one of the defendants in the suit, Tom Kerns or Lamona LLC, responded, "No comment."

Yesterday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Lamona LLC were served with a lawsuit (attached here) challenging the ZBA's to Lamona LLC for the Woman's Club of Maplewood building at 60 Woodland Road.

The Maplewood Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a variance for continuation of a non-conforming use for 60 Woodland Road at its meeting in early July.

The approval of the use variance and site plan for the applicant — Lamona LLC — allowed for the sale of the building by the Woman's Club of Maplewood to Lamona. Tom Kerns of Lamona LLC had previously said that the sale was contingent upon the approval of the variance.

The July ZBA meeting, however, contained much contentious testimony about parking (including traffic and circulation) and noise.

The building as owned by the Woman's Club of Maplewood was a somewhat sleepy enterprise for years. But in the last three years, according to neighbors on Woodland Road, the club had increased the number of events and programs renting the facility. (The club was recently embroiled and agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes.)

Woodland and Inwood Road neighbors to complain of noise and traffic related to events at the building.

To counter their concerns, Kerns — who formed Lamona in order to buy the building — offered concessions. The self-imposed conditions stipulated that the building would have no amplified music after 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and no amplified music after 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Kerns asked for "limited exceptions" including a 1 a.m. amplified music curfew for New Year's Eve and a 12 a.m. music curfew for five other dates to be named (for events related to St. Patrick's Day or the Academy Awards, for example).

Kerns also shared a resolution by the Mapelwood Township Committee stating that the governing body viewed Kerns' plans for the Woman's Club favorably and would work with Kerns and the neighborhood to "accommodate" parking needs, including a possible rental arrangement for parking spaces at the Township-owned on Durand Road.

Neighbors at the meeting were nonetheless unconvinced that Kerns and the town could ameliorate crowded parking and traffic conditions and sufficiently insulate the building to diminish sound and vibrations.

Their lawsuit challenges the use variance decision on several counts, including:

  • that the applicant did not provide sufficient public notice;
  • that the applicant failed to meet its burden of necessary criteria for a use variance;
  • that, because the applicant failed to demonstrate entitlement to the variance under state law, the action by the Board was "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious";
  • that the applicant failed to show that the site plan met all the requirements of Township ordinances and that waivers were appropriate or properly granted.

The suit contains language that argues that the two parties (the ZBA and Lamona LLC) did not ensure "that the new use would be required to include a minimum number of altruistic community events." The plaintiffs also argue that the applicant "failed to demonstrate that the proposed use will not have a substantial detrimental impact on the public good and surrounding community" — citing potential impacts such as noise and vibrations, nuisance and safety concerns, and legal and illegal parking.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Peter Kennedy, Linda Kennedy, Ernie Borsellino, Leigh Haber, Ernesto I. Butcher, Kristen Peck Butcher, Felice T. Londa and Stacy Brodsky.

Patch spoke with Londa this afternoon asked her what the neighbors would like to see developed on the 60 Woodland Road property.

"Clearly, we don't think a commercial catering hall is consistent with this neighborhood," said Londa, who is an attorney familiar with real estate and variance issues. "We have been advised that there were other developers who were interested in developing the property as residential." Londa said that single-family housing or townhouse-style residential on the site would be acceptable to neighbors.

But what of the historic character of the Woman's Club building?

"I think the building is in disrepair," said Londa. "The testimony indicated an enormous amount of work to be done." She added, "I don't know if it's feasible to use a portion of the structure for residential, but that's something that could be looked at. I know some people have a connection with the building" — Londa noted that a number of locals testified as the to character of the building that was constructed in 1930. "But almost every house on our block was built in the 20's and 30's," and, Londa argued, no one would protest replacing one of the homes with something more modern.

Patch emailed Tom Kerns of Lamona LLC for his response to the suit. Kerns responded at this time, "I have no comment."

Next steps? The defendants must file a written answer or motion with the deputy clerk of the Superior Court within 35 days from the receipt of the summons.

Elisabeth Anderson October 06, 2011 at 02:14 PM
I was outraged that the town went after The Woman's Club in the first place, so I hope the plaintiffs win. The Woman's Club did a great deal for the town, and was ambushed late it its career with the tax issue. It should have been raised years ago, and not now, when the older woman are so vulnerable. Shame on Maplewood officials!
Kent Fairfield October 06, 2011 at 03:10 PM
Surely residential use, even tasteful townhouses, would be more in keeping with the neighborhood, than a renovated concert hall or major events venue serving hundreds of guests and many scores of vehicles.
Elizabeth Nolet October 06, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Lamonna LLC and Tom Kerns have found a way to keep the Woman's Club building alive, pretty much the way i'ts been used for years, while also renovating and maintaining the old place and keeping it on the tax rolls. This purchase would allow local groups, schools and individuals to continue to use the space for functions in pretty much the same way it has been used for years. It is hard to believe that residents are filing suit against the purchase that would essentially keep the building, parking,noise etc , the same as it probably was when they moved into the neighborhood. Neighbors ought to be thanking Tom for caring about his community and trying to find a viable way to keep this lovely old hall, rather than suing him.

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