Resident sues town, golf course for trees and sidewalks

Photo Courtesy of Sally Malanga
The space left where trees were removed for the installation of a water line on Crestmont Country Club property is seen above.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Resident Robert Daniel has filed a lawsuit against the township administration, the West Orange Planning Board, township forester John Linson and the Crestmont Country Club, saying that the club is failing to adhere to the town’s tree and sidewalk ordinances while expanding its facilities.

The club was granted approval to expand at the Planning Board meeting on Oct. 4, 2017; part of its plan is to create a water line that will reach Eagle Rock Avenue by running through the forest, necessitating the removal of 11 trees.

The lawsuit also claims that the club has not built t sufficient sidewalks outside the building.

“It’s not about the project,” Daniel said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on July 26. “It’s that Laurel Avenue is inaccessible to pedestrians. You can’t walk, bicycle or jog in that area. They’ve never put in a sidewalk, which is in violation of the code.”

Section 20-3.1 of the West Orange municipal code, also known as the “Sidewalk Ordinance,” says “Any person owning, leasing, or occupying any house or other building, or vacant lot, fronting on any street in the Township shall, at his or their charge and expense, sufficiently pave the sidewalk, and maintain in good repair, according to this section, the curb and sidewalk, including the authorized installations in front of the house, building or lot.”

In an email to the Chronicle on July 28, West Orange Public Information Officer Susan Anderson said the Crestmont Country Club is not in violation of the ordinance.

“The Sidewalk Ordinance does not apply in residential zones and Crestmont is located in a residential zone,” Anderson said.

The “Tree Ordinance,” which is section 25-27 of the municipal code, says that trees should be preserved as much and as often as possible.

“Applicant shall demonstrate that: to the greatest extent possible, existing vegetation shall be preserved;” the ordinance reads. “To the greatest extent possible, specimen trees and other large trees (ten (10) inch DBH and greater) shall be preserved; on all residential lots existing natural screening and woodlands between lots, along property lines and between buildings shall be preserved to the greatest extent possible.”

Daniel said that the club could have saved more trees by coming up with an alternative plan for the water line.

“They prepped the groundwork by building the water line on Eagle Rock Avenue,” he said. “They canceled the plans to build a driveway there, but still cut down the trees.”

Anderson also said that the club is not in violation of the tree ordinance, saying that it exempts golf courses, which is stated in the ordinance in section 25-27.4c(5).

In another email to the Chronicle on July 23, Anderson said that the club had changed its renovation plans in order to preserve more trees and leave room to plant new ones. She added that the Planning Board spent more than eight hours hearing testimony from representatives from the club.

“The club’s improvements include wheelchair accessibility and ramps, as well as a new guest entrance and related improvements. During the course of the Planning Board hearings, the club amended its application to maintain the same exit driveway, lower the number of trees being removed and provide for new trees resulting in a net gain of 15 new trees,” Anderson said. “The request for sidewalks on Eagle Rock Avenue, a county road, and Laurel Avenue, would have led to substantially more tree removal. In the end, the Planning Board unanimously approved the amended application.”

The Crestmont Country Club did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In an email to the Chronicle on July 23, Planning Board Secretary Robin Miller said the board does not comment on matters of litigation. Linson directed questions to the township administration in an email to the Chronicle on July 25.

“The township did not have to defend the country club, they could have told them to follow the ordinances,” Daniel said. “But they chose to defend it. For the sidewalks, there is no walkability or accessibility. No one can walk there. So I’m doing this for equity, accountability and equality for the citizens of West Orange, because they have no voice.”

Daniel made a point of saying that he does not oppose the club’s renovation plans.

“We are in favor of the renovation and support a thriving club,” he said. “Our entire objective is to have a pathway through the forest so there’s a safe way to walk through the town and we have a safe, green community. Our sole objective is trees and sidewalks. Their project is good, there’s nothing wrong with the country club.”