Residents say Laurel Ave. demolition is too little, too late

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The owner of 23 Laurel Ave. demolished the single-family home located on the property in preparation for construction of a Hindu house of worship, but could be penalized for failing to do so within the 90-day timeframe specified by a Zoning Board resolution adopted Oct. 15, 2015.

Sun King Private Limited is a Dubai-based and British Virgin Islands-incorporated company that owns the property and is allowing the Sai Hira Ram Trust Inc., West Orange-based nonprofit, to operate a temple there. The structure was torn down shortly after the owner received a summons from the township Jan. 22 to appear in West Orange Municipal Court for not meeting its Jan. 13 deadline. A letter attached to the summons from township zoning official Geniece Gary-Adams informed Sun King that it could be fined up to $1,250 per day while in violation.

Sun King was originally to appear in court Feb. 17, but that date was rescheduled to March 29. Township public information officer Susan Anderson told the West Orange Chronicle the reason for the change is that Sun King must appear at the Zoning Board’s March 17 meeting.

Zoning Board counsel Alice Beirne said the board will decide at that meeting about Sun King’s application for a waiver from the resolution’s requirement that the building had to be demolished in 90 days, or else the entire document would be voided. Once that decision is announced, it can be brought up in court during the property owner’s hearing.

Trust secretary Anita Thani, who signed the Zoning Board application on behalf of the nonprofit and property owner, did not respond to requests for comment before press time Feb. 23. Sun King attorney Robert Williams also did not respond to the Chronicle.

The demolition came after several neighbors complained to the township and the Chronicle about Sun King’s failure to tear down the house within the mandated 90 days and about their concerns about the general disrepair of the structure. Though Beirne had told the Chronicle some issues with PSE&G had held up the demolition process, the residents maintained that the property owner should have started the proceedings immediately after getting approval from the board so that any problems could have been resolved before the deadline.

Now that the demolition has occurred, the residents are still unhappy. In particular, they are upset that a small pile of residue was left behind although the resolution called for all debris to be removed. Moreover, they are frustrated that there is a chance Sun King will not face any consequences after failing to follow the rules. Alluding to the board having approved the property owner’s zoning application despite the fact that Sun King had been operating a house of worship without the necessary permit and had once allowed a vagrant to live on the property, one resident said the board should not allow Sun King to continue to get away with breaking the law.

“In my opinion, this resolution should be void,” the resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told the Chronicle in a Feb. 22 email. “They missed their opportunity to file for an amendment during these 90 days. They should not be rewarded with the chance to make changes after the fact.”

Another neighbor said he was upset at the way the Zoning Board has handled this matter, explaining that it seems to him it catered to Sun King while ignoring residents’ concerns about overflow parking and the property owner’s background. As a result, he said that he and several fellow neighbors are boycotting the meeting.

But since the meeting and court hearing will go on anyway, the neighbor said he hopes the board and the judge will realize that Sun King deserves to be reprimanded for not obeying a simple condition of the resolution. If they do not, he said the entire Zoning Board process would be thrown into doubt.

“If they’re allowed to come and make the changes, I don’t know why (the Zoning Board) would put any conditions on any application,” this neighbor, who also asked to remain anonymous, told the Chronicle in a Feb. 19 phone interview. “Why put conditions if you’re just going to change them?”

Beirne said the board cannot comment on residents’ opinions, as its purpose is only to decide upon matters brought before it.

According to the resolution, the application was approved because the Sai Hira Ram Trust had adequately satisfied the criteria for granting setback and parking variances, effectively redesigned the project to address some of the board’s and neighbors’ concerns, and demonstrated that a temple will be an “inherently beneficial” use of the property. In all, the document said there will be no “substantial detriment” to the public, zoning code or township master plan.

Photos by Sean Quinn