SO prepares to settle Village Hall lawsuit

Photo by Yael Katzwer
Village Hall

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees held a special meeting Mary 4 to discuss two resolutions, ultimately passing both. The first resolution passed was an amendment to the 2018 municipal budget, necessary because of a change at the state level about how budgets are submitted. The second resolution, approved unanimously, authorized Village President Sheena Collum to sign a settlement agreement with Wainco South Orange.

Wainco, a realty company located across the street from Village Hall, had sued the township over the approval of the sale and redevelopment of South Orange Village Hall to Landmark Hospitality, stalling plans to transform the former municipal building into a restaurant and beer garden. One of the issues pointed out in the lawsuit was parking, which was addressed at the meeting.

“First, we wanted to address abuse of employee parking,” Collum said at the meeting. “Potentially, a business owner might purchase an employee parking decal for somebody who is not an employee. That was something that the objector raised that he thought was prevalent all throughout the town.”

Collum said the South Orange Parking Authority has addressed the parking issue by adopting new policies. The town has expanded parking by converting 12 metered spaces in the Village Hall Parking Lot to spaces designated for employees only. There will also be 12 parking spaces in the Taylor Street lot, in addition to 25 employee parking spaces in the gravel lot on the corner of Church Street and South Orange Avenue for as long as the township holds a lease on it.

Wainco has already signed the settlement, which now must be approved by both the Parking Authority and the South Orange Planning Board. The township still owns Village Hall, but will be selling it to Landmark upon the settlement of the lawsuit.

“I have reached out to the applicant, which is Landmark Hospitality, and they are prepared to close as soon as all of the legal functions are complete with this,” Collum said.

Collum told the News-Record the local Planning Board and Parking Authority will hold public hearings at their meetings. Both boards were scheduled to meet May 15, after press time for this story.

“There are hearings this month, and it will happen unless someone comes forward,” Collum said about the sale of the building.

“As is the case with any settlement agreement, the village needs to balance the time and cost associated with litigation, setting precedents, and looking out for the village’s interest as a whole,” Collum said in a May 8 Facebook post about the meeting, also saying that communication will be better following the settlement of the lawsuit. “I really don’t think there’s a ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ in any settlement. It’s a poor display for everyone involved that negotiating in good faith failed prior to any party seeking legal recourse. The objector and I have spoken — now on many occasions — and have opened lines of communication to avoid this in the future.”