SPARTA, NJ- With the township and the country club fighting in court and in the press, the people getting hurt are the businesses in White Deer Plaza. That is how they see it.
Owners and representatives from St. Moritz, Onore, Garlic and Oil and Ava and Jack Children’s Boutique, Pattycakes, Krogh’s Restaurant Brew Pub, Casa Mia, Tanti Baci Caffe, il Porto on Lake Mohawk, Oak Tree Pre-School, Waggmore and Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage met on Thursday morning to talk about Lake Mohawk Country Club’s recent announcement to close their parking lot beginning October 23.
In an effort to maintain their customers and get the word out about their position, the merchants in the plaza are holding a Free White Deer Plaza Day on Saturday, October 12 from noon until 2 p.m.
Outside on the sidewalks the restaurants and merchants will be offering free food and other items. The idea is to be able to talk with people from the community “keeping it positive,” about the situation.
“The closure was a total shock,” St. Moritz owner Keith Holmes said. Many voiced their agreement saying they had to read it in the paper. They received letters after the closure was published in the newspaper and on the radio they said.
Nick Kroudis of Il Porto said the group has been “meeting with the LMCC over the past few years and a way to address other issues and events.” Kroudis said all along the vendors have offered to pitch in to help with the cost of the parking lot. Instead, “the country club pursued paid parking and decided to close the lot while in litigation,” he said.
“Most businesses will suffer,” Richard Cintron of Onore said. He said people may come to an event at the country club but the return and stay because of the businesses in the plaza.
“We can’t turn customers away,” Holmes said. Even a day or two could impact their businesses in the long run, the merchants agreed. They are concerned not only with the parking lot closure but with the perception of a conflict. They feel potential customers will go elsewhere and possibly not return if the issue is not resolved quickly.
“We are being used as pawns,” Kroudis said. “We are the least obstructive party in this issue.” He said the merchants have offered to make arrangements for their employees and even pay a portion of the monthly cost of the parking lot, “like an HOA, paying a percentage of the cost."
The closure will also "impact the Sparta Elks #2356 and all of our community work as well," according to Beth McAteer.
“We were in communication and then they stopped,” Homels said of the country club. He said the last time the group met with the country club was in March.
The disconnection between the LMCC and Plaza merchants association "is unfortunate because everything we do affects all of us as a whole and we feel that our meetings over the past several years have been very cooperative and beneficial," Kroudis said.
The net effect of the closure will be a decline in business, followed by a decline in property value, Richard said. “The immediate problem is with the country club,” he said.
“Why are they closing [the parking lot],” Gozdenovich said. “The reason they are closing it is to put pressure on the town.”
According to the Plaza merchants, the township, through Manager Bill Close, will not discuss the issue because they are in litigation. Kourdis said John Stanley, LMCC General Manager said they were “separating from the businesses:” "the LMCC would not be involved with any further plaza merchant association meetings regarding the parking lot issue."
The LMCC has announced they will close their parking lot on October 23 to non-members. The LMCC and Sparta Township Planning and Zoning Board have locked horns over the country clubs desire to require a fee to park in their lot. The township says that is a change of use from the permitted “accessory” use for which it is currently zoned, according to discussion at the planning board meeting in March 2017. Then Planning Board vice chair George Zacsek pointed to the ordinance which requires all businesses to have free parking. The LMCC has said, patrons of the club and members will not be charged to park.
The preliminary proposal was to possibly charge $2 for the first two hours $1 for additional hours for a total of $4, according to Megan Ward of Kelly & Ward, attorney for the LMCC and Stanley Puszcz LMCC engineer of CP Engineering at the March 2017 meeting.
At that meeting Ward said the rationale for charging to park was to cover the cost of upgrades and maintenance of the lot not to generate a surplus.
Also at that March 2017 meeting councilwoman and liaisaon to the Planning Board Christine Quinn asked, “Who protects businesses from you holding the parking lot hostage?” Zacsek said “What assurances do we have that the club won’t raise the parking fees … in two years. Businesses in the reservation will be hurt."
Puszcz responded “If the board of trustees creates a price point that hurts businesses, they will be voted out.”
The planning board voted down their request, with at least one member, Zacsek, voicing his opinion that this issue belonged in front of the zoning board. The LMCC took Sparta Planning Board to court over their rejected request. The judge initially required the LMCC to make their case to the Sparta Zoning Board.
Patty Caruso of Oak Tree Pre School said she attended the Zoning Board meeting at which the representatives from the LMCC were told to only offer new testimony. She said they did not have anything new to add to the testimony they had given to the planning board.
The Zoning Board rejected the application and the judge then ruled for Sparta. The LMCC is appealing.
The group questioned the possible impact on the German Christmas Market scheduled for December. In response to questions from TAPinto Sparta Ward said, "The German Christmas Market, as with certain other events such as tthe Independence Day fireworks, has/have always been the subject of special arrangements."
Caruso and Kroudis questioned the LMCC choice of October 23, which is the same day as the scheduled grand opening of the new ShopRite in North Village on Route 15 in Sparta.
Mike Pugliese from Casa Mia said, “We want peace not a war. We’ve been friends forever.”