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October  29

Inn Demo Blocked Til December

A group calling itself the Marlboro Inn Preservation Association (MIPA) has received a temporary restraining order blocking developer Steven D. Plofker from demolishing the Marlboro Inn -- at least until a Dec. 3 court hearing.

Plofker told Baristanet about the restraining order.

The lawsuit, which names the Montclair town council, Marlboro Park Partners and Plofker, was filed on Wednesday, the day after Plofker filed the paperwork to get his demolition permit. Essex County Judge Sebastian Lombardi signed the restraining order on Wednesday.

"The heart of the complaint is a due process claim, based on allegations that the Town Council violated residents' procedural rights by relying on specious reasons to vote against their own proposed ordinance to landmark the inn," according to a press release from MIPA.

"I'm impressed by the passion and commitment of the people attempting to save the inn," Plofker told Baristanet. "We'll review it and see if we can learn anything from it."

Specifically, the lawsuit claims that the council's 5-2 decision in July not to landmark the inn was based on "economic viability," which it says is not an appropriate criteria to decide a landmarking case.

"Our town has unfortunately been betrayed by its elected representatives, some of whom received campaign contributions from the developer and another who is his personal friend," said Martin Schwartz, a leader of MIPA.

Mayor Ed Remsen told Baristanet that he while Plofker and his wife Bobbi Brown gave money to his Leadership Montclair slate, the money was returned. "We felt it was the right thing to do and we did," Remsen said.

As for the council's July decision not to landmark the inn, Remsen said, "We acted upon the advice of counsel. I feel like we acted appropriately. We'll see how it plays out. Legal matters get handled by legal people."

In addition to criticizing the town council, Schwartz said Plofker has turned down two offers of more than $2.5 million for the inn. "Although he said it is his intention to sell to a white knight, Mr. Plofker has done everything possible to avoid selling the inn," he said. "It is very clear he is looking out for his own individual interests rather than the interests of the town, despite rhetoric to the contrary."

"It's going to take a huge infusion of money to make that place viable," Remsen said. "Who's to say it's viable or not viable? It's his property."

October 29, 2004 in Controversy, Marlboro Inn | Permalink

Comments

I see the Montclair Eyesore Preservation Society is back at it!

Should we have a pool?

Lemme guess: An artist colony with a high-end catering (sans parking) tie-in?

At least I don't have to move my trailer until after Christmas!

Posted by: Right of Center | Oct 29, 2004 10:12:32 AM

Who'd have thought a developer would seem like the underdog? Plofker totally has my sympathies: IT'S HIS PROPERTY and he's been amazingly gracious with the local NIMBY crowd.

I'd have been tempted to bring some matches under cover of night if it were me.

Posted by: Suprised | Oct 29, 2004 11:35:30 AM

Thank you Marlboro Inn Preservation Association for saving us from irretrievable loss at least for a while. These private property fanatics seem to feel that the past and the future are theirs to exploit. We have an obligation to others when we are gone that transcends short term profit. I, for one, would like to offer my support to their efforts. How do I contact them?

Posted by: Grateful | Oct 29, 2004 11:58:04 AM

I'm so impressed with Plofker. These hastily cobbled-together groups have sought to obstruct his every move for a year or more, calling him names and casting aspersions on his character/motives all the while. Here they are again, halting progress at his expense at the 11th hour... and he's still able to turn the other cheek. He's a better man than I am.

Posted by: David P. Powell | Oct 29, 2004 11:58:59 AM

"I'm so impressed with Plofker... These he's still able to turn the other cheek. He's a better man than I am."

Please! Not while I am eating my lunch! Why not just nominate him for sainthood?

Posted by: Miss Martta | Oct 29, 2004 12:04:12 PM

"These private property fanatics seem to feel that the past and the future are theirs to exploit."

No, actually. We just feel that our property is ours to "exploit." You can do with your property what you like, now and in the future. (Do let me know if you find a way to access the past -- there are some out-of-print vinyl records I'd like to go back and pick up.)

The shrillness is deafening. You'd think that Plofker was planning to pave the entire lot and put up a sex novelties store or something.

Posted by: David P. Powell | Oct 29, 2004 12:05:10 PM

"Why not just nominate him for sainthood?"

I think a miracle is required for that. At this point, getting the Inn torn down might qualify. So you might be onto something.

Posted by: David P. Powell | Oct 29, 2004 12:08:04 PM

can we finally move on and just let this building fall? it's a total dump anyway...

Posted by: Left Of Center, like Suzanne Vega | Oct 29, 2004 2:38:31 PM

As Yogi would say, "This is like deja vu all over again"!!!

ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!!

Posted by: onthesly | Oct 29, 2004 2:40:47 PM

Has anyone actually ttaken a loook at Plofker's plans? 8 houses and a street with 6 foot setbacks to the FRONT yards with backyards and garages FACING WATCHUNG. If you free marketeers want to live in Houston I suggest you moove there.

Posted by: Grateful | Oct 29, 2004 3:29:12 PM

And if you want to live in a place where the powers that be dictate exactly what houses (don't) look like, I suggest you move to a development with a HOA covenant.

They might be nice. Who knows? If the neighbors think they're ugly, though, the folks who buy them sure won't have to do much Googling to find out how the locals feel about their new home. Yikes.

I wonder how many of the vintage houses Montclarians live in now were considered declasse eyesores when they were first built. Take a look at some c.1900 photos of the area north of Claremont and it's not hard to imagine the landed gentry pitching a fit over the rows and rows of closely spaced faux mansions being thrown up a mere fifty feet from the curbside.

Moral of the story: This too shall pass.

Posted by: David P. Powell | Oct 29, 2004 10:21:38 PM

Regardless of one's feelings about the Inn, the lawsuit was about due process and the council's not observing its OWN procedures.

We like to think of ourselves living in a society of laws and rules. When our governing body forgets this people do get rather angry.

Cary

Posted by: carya | Oct 29, 2004 10:45:01 PM

Regardless of one's feelings about the town council's OWN procedures - make no mistake, this lawsiut is NOT about council procedures.

Please - how dumb do you think we are?

Or perhaps the suit was brought on by the Montclair Parliamentary Procedure Club?

Posted by: Right of Center | Oct 30, 2004 9:22:50 AM

I applaud Judge Lombardi's wisdom in granting a restraining order. Many congratulations to the Marlboro Inn Preservation Association for their diligence and hard work. The Marlboro Inn and green space surrounding it must be preserved to maintain the gracious elegance of the town. Of course, for those who prefer door to door concrete, try NYC!

Posted by: Jean Wilson Moore | Oct 30, 2004 10:49:59 AM

And congratulations to the forces of Decay and Delay for holding up the tax revenue (approx 120k per year) from the new homes to the town treasury.

So next time you hear complaints about raising taxes remember there are those who are *costing* you money as well.

Posted by: Right of Center | Oct 30, 2004 10:59:48 AM

OK, I'm all for property rights, but I am also a preservationist. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

This is not Montana, what I do affects my neighbors.

To pay for a system funded by an abusive property tax Montclair needs ratables. The Marlboro Inn was such a ratable, I hope it will be again.

8 new homes will be a drag on Montclair. These have been promoted as three or more bedroom homes. ROC is probably right about the $120K of property taxes to be collected.

Let's give 20% to the black hole known as Essex County. I am sure that will make some patronage employee about one half or one third happy.

Then let's give 20% to the town, to police the street, fight the fires, collect the trash, clear the snow, pickup leaves and the myriad of other services the town provides. I hope that is a break even number. Usually not, but I remain ever optimistic.

Then let's give the remaining $70K to the school system. It costs Montclair about $11K/year to educate a kid.

I assume an average of 2 kids per house (at $800K this ain't no retirement community), that should be conservative.

That's a net ANNUAL loss of $=/-106K,

Hopefully some of these taxpayers will be sending their kids to MKA.

Anyway you look at it, this type of development is not very neighborly and definitely not good for Montclair.

FWIW, I assume that if the council had voted to designate either time, Montclair would be court fighting Mr. Plofker.

Posted by: Kevin Lee Allen | Oct 30, 2004 11:17:57 AM

Have you ever been on Watchung Avenue heading west between Ridgewood and Grove Street at rush hour? At least all that green space at the corner (after waiting for about 3 or 4 lights to get there) has a nice calming effect. I guess we can kiss that simple, little perk goodbye. Ah, progress...................

Posted by: cshel924 | Oct 30, 2004 12:02:37 PM

Nice analysis, Kevin. Thanks for setting things straight. It's the umpeenth time folks who look at the houses as a bonanza have been told this.

I still do applaud the lawsuit for its emphasis on procedure. This takes away nothing for my desire for preservation -- it's just that I saw the vote to turn down the preservation designation as another "we'll do what we feel like doing" from the council. I saw the court judgement as saying "no you won't, there's a process."

Cary

Posted by: carya | Oct 30, 2004 2:45:58 PM

Mayor Remsen said:

"It's going to take a huge infusion of money to make that place viable...who's to say it's viable or not viable? It's his property."

And herein lies the problem. First off, the Mayor is not a restoration expert and is only relaying what he has been told by the developer. Gordon Keil -- who offerred $2.5 million to Mr. Plofker to buy the Inn -- is a certified home inspector. He beleives only a few hundred thousand is needed to turn the Inn from tired and worn - to quaint and charming. I agree with this assessment. Could much more be spent... sure? But that's enough to get it going to the point people will respond well and stop the bad-mouting. The previous owners did nothing on this front.

Further, Landmark Developers -- the group who tried to buy the Inn for even more than $2.5 million -- were willing to spend much more on restorations because they believed it was a good business investment. Mr. Plofker's rationale for demolition does not hold water on this fix-up expenditure front.

Regardless -- the Mayor just doesn't get it and does not understand the law. Under the HP law, it is the experts -- the appointed Commissioners on the Historic Preservation Commission, who have to consider what is to be done with a landmarked site -- not the town council beforehand. The Commissioners are the ones that determine if and which of the developer's claims warrant a demolition permit, or if there are other fair market buyers, or if there are other viable mays to keep the building and site entact.

By not landmarking what everyone involved in the process except the council agrees (and voted) -- is a building that warrants landmarking protection either under the Master Plan and based on the criteria described in the law, the council acted unreasonalbly and ignored the very requirements stated in the town's ordiances. Even if demolition was ultimately shown to be necessary -- a 10 home sub-division would not be the end result to put on a historic site.

The last council was already childed once by the same judge for their proceedural and legal miss-steps and was reversed in Mr. Plofker's favor. We believe they will be overturned yet again.

Maritn Schwartz
MIPA Member

Posted by: Martin Schwartz | Oct 30, 2004 11:15:56 PM

Dear members of the community:

As you are already aware, an association of concerned citizens—the Marlboro Inn Preservation Association (MIPA)—has filed suit against the Town Council. The suit alleges that the Council failed to follow the law in voting not to designate the Inn as a local landmark.

At the time of the vote, Councilor Gerald Tobin expressed his belief that the other members of the council were considering factors not permissible under the governing ordinance, and that application of the ordinance to the facts could yield only one result: that the Inn must be landmarked. In essence, Mr. Tobin, an attorney, was saying that the decision to vote against the Inn was unlawful because it was not based on a proper interpretation of the applicable law. MIPA’s attorneys agree with Mr. Tobin’s opinion.

Many people have different opinions why certain town councilors did not vote properly (in our view) -- based on the law. We will not deal with those here. What we want to present are some of the facts that support our conclusion that the law was not adhered to:

*The Inn is a federal and state recognized landmark, meaning that its historic status has been vouched for by land use/preservation experts at both levels of government. Moreover, it is specifically listed in our own Master Plan as a historic property worthy of preservation, and protecting such properties associated with the community’s history is a stated goal of the Master Plan.

*Prior to the Town Council’s decision, the Council received a unanimous recommendation from the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (the “HPC”) saying that the Inn met all the criteria for landmarking. And on top of that, the Council also received confirmation from an independent preservation expert—retained by the Town—attesting to the accuracy of the HPC’s findings. Nonetheless, with no contrary evidence presented, members of the Council denied landmarking, even going so far as to say that the building did not meet all of the necessary historic criteria.

*As Mr. Tobin noted, other Council members erroneously considered the “economic viability” of the Inn in making their decision. This was a mistake for two reasons. First, as set out in MIPA’s court filings, “economic viability” is not an appropriate land use factor for consideration during a landmarking process. If a landmark presents economic challenges, those issues are to be dealt with, as provided for in the local ordinance, by the HPC itself – not by the council. Second, there was not even any credible evidence in the record before the Council on which they could have rationally considered economic viability. One of the speakers during the Council’s public hearing on the Inn was a local businessman who has offered $2.5 million to purchase the Inn and run it as a hotel and restaurant. And as the Town Manager, Joseph Hartnett, explained after the vote, the Council had intended to get an expert report providing them with information about possible uses for the building—but had failed to do so prior to making their decision. In Mr. Hartnett’s words, the whole matter was mishandled.

For the last few months, those of us who would like to see this nationally registered landmark preserved have held out hope that the legal violations Mr. Tobin pointed out would not have to be litigated. One citizen started a petition drive. The local businessman who had offered $2.5 million continued his effort to purchase the Inn. An architect even pitched in to demonstrate an alternate use for the building, such as condominiums built within the Inn’s footprint. But now that Mr. Plofker has obtained a demolition permit, and has publicly stated that he will not consider any other options besides demolition, it became clear that the Council’s alleged violation of law will be fatal to the Inn unless relief is sought from the courts.

As most of you know, this is not the first time that the Council’s handling of the Inn has caused the Town to end up in court. In the spring, Mr. Plofker sued the town because he believed that the procedures followed by the Council violated his rights (he won). MIPA’s suit is being brought for the same reason. Though we are not happy about the lawsuit costing taxpayers money, citizens of the town should not be expected to simply look away when they believe their due process rights have been violated—just as Mr. Plofker himself did not.

The building at stake is not just a nationally-recognized landmark. It is a symbol for the entire Town. As former Council member Zief said during a public meeting, it is one of the five most historic buildings we have. It, together with its beautiful park-like lawn, has greeted town visitors for generations. How can a town that prides itself on the character of its historic architecture simply allow such a landmark to be demolished—particularly when prospective buyers have offered over $2.5 million to purchase it, and alternative plans have not even been considered, let alone exhausted, by the government.

We ask your help to make things right and to show your support for the lawsuit. Such support is vital, regardless of whatever ultimately happens to the Inn. (Yes, if Mr. Plofker risks suffering from economic hardship because a bona fide purchaser cannot ultimately be found, he might still obtain the right to demolish the Inn even after landmarking because preservation law is not “draconian;” however, it does require that certain standards be applied by the town’s experts before a landmark can be demolished and replaced with a 10-home sub-division.) What is important is that citizens stand up for the rights provided to all of us by the local preservation ordinance (and by the State and Federal constitutions), that actions which may be unlawful not be allowed to stand unchallenged, and that the Inn be given a legitimate chance to the protections intended for it under the local preservation ordinance.

There are three ways you can help:

(1) You can send an e-mail with your name and address to [email protected], saying that you are interested in being listed as a member of the Marlboro Inn Preservation Association. (We’ll follow up with you after we get your message.)

(2) Whether or not you want to become a “member,” you can contribute monetarily to our community legal fund. We will be sending out a fundraising message shortly, but feel free to contact us at the above address in the meantime to let us know your interest.

(3) You can let the elected officials of the Town know that you support our efforts.

We thank you for your support. To those who are opposed to our attempt to make sure that the letter of the law is followed in deciding the fate of the Inn, so that this piece of history is not needlessly lost for future generations, please understand that our hearts are in the right place.

Sincerely,

The Marlboro Inn Preservation Association,
by Adam Grace & Martin Schwartz

Posted by: Adam Grace | Nov 5, 2004 2:32:54 PM

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