WEST ORANGE, NJ — There may be a new future for the catering facility of a now-shuttered event venue in West Orange – but not everyone is happy about it.

On Wednesday, the West Orange Planning Board is scheduled to hear an application from the Wonder Group Inc. involving a former catering facility of Mayfair Farms, which closed in 2022 after operating for eight decades in the township.

According to planning documents, Wonder Group wants to expand an existing outdoor cooking facility and carry out other “site improvements” at 481 Eagle Rock Avenue. The surrounding area includes residential, commercial and open space (see a recent buffer report of nearby properties here).

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Here is a brief background about the plan:

“The subject property is currently developed with multiple buildings formerly utilized as a catering facility. The applicant has been operating on the subject property for a few years. The current operations include indoor food preparation and cooking, as well as an accessory outdoor barbecuing area with two smoker units on a covered 420-square foot concrete pad. The proposal would expand the outdoor accessory outdoor use by adding up to ten additional smokers on a covered 2,650-square foot concrete pad in approximately the same location. Two 20-foot by 8- foot walk-in coolers and a 20-foot by 8-foot blast chiller are proposed a short distance from the expanded cooking area. The area in which the expanded operations are proposed is not visible from the street. The subject property is located in the B-2 Business zone, which permits a range of commercial and other nonresidential uses. No variances are required for the proposal.”

The proposal has drawn stiff criticism from Our Green West Orange, which bashed the plan in a recent blog post.

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“This proposal is excessive,” the group alleged. “It threatens to turn our township into an industrial meat smoking industry. The smoke will burn for hours and through the weekend, wafting carcinogenic smoke into the Paddock Farms/Redwood area.”

“Wood smoke produces a cancer-causing chemical called PAH – short for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon – and it’s considered many times more deadly than cigarettes,” Our Green West Orange continued. “Please read the EPA’s warning about wood smoke and the risks it can cause children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Please attend Wednesday’s meeting and tell the board to vote NO on this application.”

Wonder Group is requesting minor site plan approval from the board and several waivers associated with the proposal. Related planning documents can be seen online here.

However, that may not be so cut-and-dry, according to a July 3 memo from the planning board engineer:

“The applicant has applied to the Planning Board for Minor Site Plan approval. We note that a Minor Site Plan is defined in Section 25-4 of the Ordinance as one that proposes development of not more than 1,000 square feet of new building floor area. In addition, a building is defined as a combination of materials to form a construction adapted to permanent, temporary, or continuous occupancy and having a roof. The Ordinance further defines a Major Site Plan as any development plan which does not meet the definition of a minor site plan. Since the new canopy is classified as a building and will have a floor area of 2,400 square feet, it is our opinion that this application should be classified as a Major Site Plan. Therefore, Applicant disagrees with our position on this matter and states that they will provide testimony to the Board in support of their position.”

The Wonder Group is represented by New Jersey Sen. John McKeon via the law firm of Hardin, Kundla, McKeon & Poletto. McKeon (NJ-27) represents West Orange and several other North Jersey towns in the state Legislature.

The July 10 planning board meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the council chambers in Town Hall, 66 Main Street. See the agenda with remote login information here.

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