Liddle Tots back in business, waits for next court hearing
Liddle Tots II Teen at Pond Plaza, the proposed site of a controversial three-story self-storage unit, is open again after a Superior Court Justice found that the landlord had improperly evicted the business serving 130 children.
According to Robert Flaherty, attorney for owner Bill Liddle and Liddle Tots, the eviction notice served on Friday, Sept. 7 at 4:30 had not been properly executed. Liddle said the notice was drafted on July 2 and he was told to be binding that it had to be served within 20 days, after which point it becomes invalid.
But that wasn’t known on Sept. 7. With parents expecting the facility to be open Monday, Liddle scrambled to avoid a shutdown. He tried to reach Flaherty, who was out of town and, even if he had been here, the courts were closed. Acting quickly, Liddle, his staff and family reached out to keep parents informed and then started moving essentials out of the facility. The following morning a moving truck showed up to take furniture, computers, records…everything. Locks were changed and it looked like Liddle Tots, which is celebrating its 26th year in business, would be forced to close.
Liddle understands why the landlord, Anthony DiFante and Cenicor, would want him out should the plaza be sold to Charles Anderson and PRW Holding Inc. PRW proposes to erect a three-story 630-unit self-storage facility on the Liddle Tots end of the plaza. But what doesn’t make sense is why Cenicor wouldn’t want to keep Liddle Tots as a paying tenant for as long as they could. The company is paying more than $100,000 in rent annually.
Liddle was in court Monday, Sept. 10, but it wasn’t until Wednesday when he got a ruling. The furniture and items removed from Liddle Tots were returned and the day care reopened last Thursday. But the threat of eviction lingers. Flaherty said Liddle would be back in court Monday at 2 p.m.
Meanwhile, plans for the self-storage unit remain up in the air.
Neighbors of Sand Pond, which is located behind the plaza, rallied to oppose the development when it came before the Planning Board for preliminary plan approval last September. The board found the proposal inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, although the zoning allows for a self-storage unit. PRW appealed to the Zoning Board of Review that ruled in favor of the developer.
That didn’t put an end to the battle. Those opposed have retained a legal firm with a background in environmental and zoning cases to fight the next step in the approval process, special use permits from the Zoning Board. That petition was to have been heard on Sept. 11, but never made it to the docket.
At the time K. Joseph Shekarchi, attorney for PRW, said he didn’t think it would come before the board in October and possibly not in November. No zoning board meetings are listed on the city’s online calendar.
In August, those opposed to the storage unit staged a Pond Pallooza as a means of pulling the community together while enjoying paddle boarding, kayaking and swimming. Among elected officials who turned out was Mayor Joseph Solomon, who called the pond a “hidden treasure” and backed City Planner and his Chief of Staff William DePasquale, who finds the proposed development inconsistent with the neighborhood.
Liddle Tots did not play a role in the pond rally, although some families that use the business did.
Liddle makes no correlation between the eviction and the demonstration. His focus is on those families that depend on him, and he’s hopeful that can continue to happen at Pond Plaza for as long as possible. He said he is exploring options. Liddle said he was on a month-to-month lease as of June 2017 when, evidently, DiFante was in discussion to sell the plaza.
DiFante’s attorney, Steve Izzi, could not be reached for comment.
What happens in court Monday could decide whether Liddle Tots moves sooner or later.