WEST CAPE MAY – The borough through its insurer agreed to pay Willow Creek Winery $550,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged West Cape May tried to stop the vineyard from hosting weddings.
Willow Creek and its owner, Barbara Wilde, of West Cape May, sued the borough in U.S. District Court in 2012 shortly before opening the 50-acre winery on Steven Street.
Wilde dismissed her claims against the borough on May 19.
The lawsuit alleged the borough and Mayor Pamela Kaithern interfered with construction of the winery’s 12,000-square-foot events hall.
According to court papers, a West Cape May construction official testified that he considered cutting the winery’s sewer lines and filling them with concrete.
“It is unclear whether this was at Kaithern’s direction or merely a misguided plan to further her wishes that the winery never open. We conclude that such a plan would shock the conscience and would distinguish this case from even the most bitter of land use disputes,” the court said in granting partial summary judgment.
Kaithern declined to comment. The borough is insured through the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund.
Commissioner Carol Sabo referred questions to Solicitor Frank Corrado, who did not return calls seeking comment.
In a statement, the borough said the lawsuit was settled “without any admission of fault or liability by the borough.”
Winery attorney Colin Bell said the borough also agreed to pay $10,000 to settle an Open Public Records Act lawsuit in connection with the dispute.
“The entire annual budget of West Cape May is $2.3 million,” said Bell, an attorney with Atlantic City firm Hankin Sandman & Palladino. “The amount of the settlement speaks to the seriousness of the allegations.
“The settlement is a vindication of everything Ms. Wilde has been trying to do, putting people to work and putting out a great product.”