The New Providence Planning Board approved an application Tuesday night to open an Italian restaurant in the former home of McGrath’s Paint & Hardware on Springfield Avenue. The board also approved renovations to the façade of the entire commercial strip on the southeast corner of Springfield Avenue and South Street.
The board did not vote on a planned massage parlor and spa, which was anticipated to split the McGrath space with the restaurant. The spa was removed from the application when it became clear the board would not approve it.
Dong Hong Li had hoped to move her massage business to New Providence and occupy a portion of the McGrath’s space. Li, who was present at the meeting, testified in front of the board regarding an incident that occurred at her current West Windsor, NJ location.
In response to a line of questioning by board attorney William Robertson, Li said police legally entered her business, suspecting her business of engaging in sexual crimes. While two of her understudies were arrested and subsequently deported, Li said she was neither arrested nor convicted of any crimes, and maintains a clean criminal record.
Unsatisfied with Li’s testimony, Board Chairman Robert Lesnewich cited contradictions between her testimony Tuesday night and testimonies at prior hearings. Applicant Attorney Jeff Lehrer objected to the questioning from the outset.
“I just think it was getting too personal and without hard evidence, I wasn’t going to let it go further,” he said.
In lieu of Li’s controversial testimony, Lehrer asked the board to consider voting on the restaurant and façade renovation portions of the application while postponing the vote on the spa portion until more evidence could be gathered and witnesses subpoenaed. The board, however, said that it cannot rule on only parts of an application, and therefore either the entire application would have to be pushed back or it would all have to be voted upon.
To avoid delaying construction of the restaurant and façade, and to ensure Li would have another chance at moving her business into the McGrath’s location, the applicants, who included the landlord and property manager, simply removed the spa from the application and had the board vote.
While removing Li and her spa from the application meant she would have to reapply at a later date if she wishes, it prevented the board from voting her down altogether—an irreversible, and, considering the board’s reaction to her testimony, likely decision.
“We can come back and if there’s additional evidence, we’d have an opportunity to present it,” Lehrer said.
In a 6-1 vote, the board approved the revised application, approving measures to renovate the façade and begin construction for the Italian restaurant.