WEST ORANGE — A rockslide during Ida that permanently displaced dozens of tenants from an apartment complex has dredged up a tense township battle that began over a decade ago.

A number of West Orange residents fought against plans by Seton Hall Prep for nearly two years — over nearly 30 long-running public meetings — before the West Orange Township Zoning Board approved the $7 million dollar project for turf athletic fields in 2010.

Our Green West Orange, a grassroots preservation group, repeatedly criticized the razing of about 1,000 trees on then-forest land that is uphill from a number of homes, including the Ron Jolyn Apartments.

During public meetings as the project was considered, members of the group voiced concerns that water retention ponds on the fields would worsen local flooding.

Loren Svetvilas, current president of Our Green West Orange, told New Jersey 101.5 that he even handed an inscribed copy of “The Lorax” to Seton Hall Prep Headmaster Michael Kelly in 2016 as a new phase of construction was approved. The Dr. Seuss book is based on an iconic message of environmental stewardship.

The all-boys Catholic high school on Prospect Avenue completed construction of a baseball field, practice field, new bleachers and more parking by 2017.

2014: West Orange trees cut for Seton Hall Prep construction (courtesy (courtesy Loren Svetvilas)
2014: West Orange trees cut for Seton Hall Prep construction (courtesy (courtesy Loren Svetvilas)

After pledging to replace nearly all 1,000 of the trees it cut down, the private school later backtracked, another member of Our Green West Orange told NJ.com, saying there was not enough room to plant all that they had promised.

The rockslide on Sept. 1 displaced 45 families, a total of 70 people, after an engineering firm’s assessment was read by township officials around Columbus Day, Oct. 8, as first reported by CBS New York.

Recent drone footage shared by NJ.com to Youtube shows the location of the fields, perched above the apartment complex now slated for demolition.

Displaced residents have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, as the Mayor’s Sunshine Fund has been paying for their extended hotel stays, according to West Orange Township Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown in a Facebook post on Oct. 15.

Of the 59 adults and 11 children permanently displaced from the complex, four have moved in with family members and two have found new living arrangements, according to township spokesman Joe Fagan.

"Several have strong leads to other living arrangements, but no leases have been signed to my knowledge," he said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.

A GoFundMe campaign organized by Jonathan Redwine had raised nearly $7,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, while Our Green West Orange was also collecting donations via PayPal for the residents.

As of Tuesday, a number of displaced residents were considering legal action.

"We all thought it was over," Svetvilas said. "Then when the rockslide happened — it was like, 'Holy cow,' this is what we were fighting for."

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