Greystone preservation group enlists lawyer in last-ditch effort to halt state demolition

Preserve Greystone has enlisted legal help in hopes of winning a reprieve for the Kirkbride Building, a  former asylum marked for demolition by the state.

The main building at Greystone, a former psychiatric hospital that treated patients for more than a century. Photo by Berit Ollestad

GOING, GOING… Time is running out for the Kirkbride Building at Greystone, a former psychiatric hospital that treated patients for more than a century. Photo by Berit Ollestad

James Sullivan Jr., of Sullivan & Graber in Morristown, has joined the effort as pro bono counsel, according to Preserve Greystone President John Huebner.

Parsippany attorney Steve Humphreys, who successfully represented the advocacy group in an open public records request, also will continue to assist.

“There are so many things wrong with the state’s handling of this matter that its hard to know where to begin,” Huebner said in a statement.

Treasury Department spokespersons have indicated the state intends to press on with the $50 million cleanup and demolition of the massive Second Empire Victorian structure, which officials contend is too dilapidated to save without massive investment.

When it was built in 1876, Kirkbride was the centerpiece of the sprawling Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital, on the border of Parsippany and Morris Plains.  The operation closed in 2008, when a new psychiatric hospital opened nearby.

Last month, Alma Realty of Long Island proposed a $140 million project  to convert the building into luxury apartments and retail facilities, with a public park or school.  It was the seventh redevelopment proposal for the site.

Preservationists’ hopes briefly rose this month when Morris Freeholder Douglas Cabana expressed support for a 90-day review of the Alma Realty proposal.

“We could put this building on the tax rolls,” The Star-Ledger quoted him as saying at a meeting.

But Cabana had an about-face, telling the Morris News Bee that a much longer review would be necessary and citing concerns about safety in the interim, and about traffic from the proposed housing development.

Gov. Christie and Morris Plains Mayor Frank Druetzler both favor demolition and the expansion of a county park, called Central Park, on the former hospital grounds.

The preservationists say they won’t go down quietly.

“In the absence of an adequate explanation from the State on why this expensive and unnecessary obliteration of an irreplaceable public icon serves the taxpayers’ interests, we feel we must press on,” said Preserve Greystone Trustee Adam McGovern.

Huebner added: “To all appearances, the only assets being managed responsibly here are political assets. Paving the way for the Central Park of Morris County is not adequate justification for the State to borrow $50M right now.”

The freeholders’ next meet is on July 23, 2014.

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