West Orange Town Council Unanimously Votes Down Settlement in Lawsuit over Executive Drive

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Hecker Carriage House West Orange 4910
The Hecker Carriage House was one of two buildings that survived in this historic neighborhood. The settlement, which was voted down, sought to protect it with landmark designation. Photo by Jersey Digs.

The drawn-out legal saga over the Executive Drive office park in West Orange still has no end in sight. The town council on Tuesday unanimously rejected a settlement.


Court battles have dogged the township for the past few years with plaintiff Kevin Malanga arguing that the township’s 30-year tax abatement for BNE Real Estate Group was issued under false pretenses. Malanga won an appellate court decision last year.

Despite considerable public opposition, the town council in December approved a resolution that again named the same office park an area in need of redevelopment. Malanga once more filed a lawsuit.

The terms of the settlement would have protected both a 12-acre patch of forest and a Victorian-era carriage house in a little-known historic part of town formerly known as the Ridge.

In the 19th century, West Orange was a retreat for wealthy New Yorkers who lived in manicured estates in one of four neighborhoods: Llewellyn Park, St. Cloud, Hutton Park, and the Ridge.

Unfortunately, the Ridge lost most of its architectural heritage in a wave of teardowns that lasted well into the 1990s. All that survived were two 19th century carriage houses. The settlement sought to protect one of those carriage houses, which was owned by George Hecker, a flour miller.

Hecker Carriage House West Orange 4911
Stick-style Victorian architecture was popular in the 1860s to 1870s and is extremely rare in New Jersey. Photo by Jersey Digs.

“It’s the last remnant of what was once a magnificent stretch of estates owned by many notable people including General McClellan,” said Marty Feitlowitz, Vice Chair of the Historic Preservation Committee. “It has been vacant for many years and is in need of some serious rehabilitation.”

The neglect of Hecker’s Stick-style carriage house, designed by Henry Hudson Holly, is another story altogether. West Orange only has nine homes protected as landmarks. This scarcity is by design, as elected officials traditionally side with homeowners over the recommendations of the Historic Preservation Commission. 

In a heated debate among council members that turned into mud-slinging, the council concluded that Malanga, who lives near the forest and carriage house, stood to gain from the settlement. The council also expressed concern that these places would be enjoyed only by a few, although the settlement states that they would be “for the benefit of the general public.”

“You’re lauded as the township hero because the appeal was won,” said Cindy Matute-Brown. “But now the appeal can be tossed aside and we can dismiss this lawsuit — three lawsuits — in exchange for an undisclosed settlement agreement?”

As for the 12-acre forest, Council President Matute-Brown admitted that one of her campaign promises was to protect it from development. The land was formerly the pleasure grounds of an estate that has since been reclaimed by nature. It has been on the market for a few years and many fear it could be sold off as a subdivision.

Executive Drive Forest West Orange
The 12-acre forest is full of traces of its former life as the pleasure grounds of an estate. Here, a brick-lined path bordered with daffodils leads to a lookout with views of Manhattan. Photo by Jersey Digs.

The forest is currently closed to the public, but if it opens someday, those who explore the grounds will find artifacts like stone bridges and brick-lined pathways that wind past a lookout with dramatic views of Manhattan.

“The family that owns the land wants to protect their interests,” said Ken Baris, chief executive officer of Jordan Baris, the agency listing the property. “But if they can do something that at the same time benefits the town, they would be thrilled.” 

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7 COMMENTS

  1. The Town Council’s accusations are unfortunate and unfounded and if you listen to the their discussion, give the appearance of being motivated by personal feelings over the importance of historic preservation in a township that has lost much of its history. The WOHistoric Preservation Commission was founded when there was outcry in the 1990s over the destruction of the early 1800s Condit house. Would that West Orange residents would speak out in favor of their architectural and historic heritage now. That carriage house is a treasure and its educational value is substantial. Coupled with the wooded area, any imaginative teacher or team of teachers could create exciting and inspiring cross disciplinary lessons. And that view would be preserved for the good of the public instead of private development. I hope that residents speak out to save the land and the carriage house. I will add, that I am a past member of the West Orange Historic Preservation Commission and I viewed the structure years ago. Its preservation has long been a goal.

  2. Architect Henry Hudson Holly is a major figure in 19th century architecture and yes, surviving stick style structures rare indeed. If you care about our heritage and the lessons the past teach us, please make your sentiments known.

  3. I have driven by this carriage house many times, and had not known it’s history until reading this article. As a 20-year resident, I wonder why that is? We as a township should be protecting and honoring our historical architecture! Edison’s home, the Kimble House, and more. What a shame that the Town Council and elected leaders would rather punish a township gadfly instead of protecting acres of forest and historical architecture. For leaders that run on a progressive platform, they certainly aren’t acting like it.

  4. I spent 15 years restoring an arts and crafts manor house and carriage house. Lovingly. While the township I was in was busy destroying all of the arts and crafts properties that they owned. People don’t go to Europe to see the buildings they put up last year. They go to Qatar. With Florentine gold chains around their necks.

    There’s a folk song called Passing Through. We’re all just passing through. We are mere stewards. As individuals we own nothing. People in government who do not understand that should not be in government.

  5. I don’t know how well-known this is. A 1948 the Rockefellers tried to get Philadelphia to agree to restore Germantown to its colonial incarnation and make it a national heritage site. The town fathers at the time thought it was an elitist idea and turned it down. Williamsburg, Virginia did not. Germantown turned into a slum.

    Joe Sixpack should not be making decisions about the world we live in.

  6. I’ve traveled throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, and the adaptive reuse of old and historic buildings is always a big draw for people. It’s great to see the respect for old buildings and how they are repurposed to modern needs. Look at the Gare d’Orsay in Paris or Grand Central Station in NYC. Every day, tourists, locals and other visitors enjoy the beauty of these beautiful buildings.

    The charm and craftsmanship of older buildings needs to be cherished here too, since no one is building like that any more. The character of these buildings matter and add to the charm of the town.

  7. Elected officials who run on promises should be held accountable. Matute-Brown is a false progressive. Many environmentalist who supported her initial run see her true colors. First she benefits immediately from a state job, then she votes against her own campaign promises.

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