By KATIE MOEN
WESTFIELD — A New Jersey Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of a local redeveloper and the Westfield Planning Board in regards to the Sophia, a mixed-use residential complex slated for construction at the corner of Prospect Street and Ferris Place.
The four-story redevelopment project, which will ultimately consist of 60 residential units, 96 underground parking spaces, 500 square feet of retail space, a pool, a rooftop terrace, a small clubhouse and other amenities, was deemed consistent with the town’s Master Plan by the Westfield Planning Board in September of last year. Shortly thereafter, a group of local residents filed suit against both the board and the project’s lead redeveloper, James Ward, citing alleged violations of the town’s zoning code and its Historic Preservation Ordinance.
The initial complaint, dated October 28, 2022 and filed on behalf of an ad hoc citizens’ group known as Westfield Advocates for Responsible Development (WAFRD), went on to allege that the planning board’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
And while the courts found earlier this year that the Advocates had enough standing to legally persue the matter, Judge Lisa Miralles Walsh ruled last week that the planning board had been in the right due in part to the town’s 2021 decision to declare the town as an Area In Need Of Rehabilitation.
“The Town is pleased with the court’s decision in favor of the Planning Board, following more than a year of litigation funded by taxpayers after being initiated by the Westfield Advocates for Responsible Development,” Westfield Town Attorney Tom Jardim said via written communication to The Westfield Leader earlier this week. “The rendered judgment not only reaffirms the extensive due diligence and sound planning advice by our professionals to guide our decision-making, but also our strict adherence to every legal protocol in the redevelopment process.”
In addition to raising concerns about the building’s approved height and density, the 2022 lawsuit claimed that Mr. Ward and his redevelopment entity, Prospect and Ferris Development, LLC, violated provisions of the town’s Historic Preservation Ordinance by including plans to relocate a locally-designated landmark known as the Mills-Ferris Pearsall House as part of the official Redevelopment Agreement. The agreement, which can be found in its entirety on the town’s website, indicates that the home will ultimately be converted into “a new educational and cultural amenity.”
Representatives from the Westfield Advocates said via social media that Judge Walsh’s decision “ignored the historical significance of the Ferris-Pearsall house and property” and defied “the written recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission Officer’s report.”
“Sadly, there was an opportunity for the developer, the planning board, the mayor and the town council to do what is right for the residents of Westfield by right-sizing the significantly oversized building and maintaining the integrity of the historic site and home,” the organization said.
Requests for comment by Mr. Ward were not returned at the time of publication.