Just months after making peace with a New Jersey thrift, an investor group is asking for regulatory permission to own almost 25% of it.

The group, led by Lawrence B. Seidman and Richard Whitman, already owns 10.4%. That makes it the largest shareholder in $250 million-asset Wayne (N.J.) Bancorp.

Mr. Whitman says his New Jersey group now supports management and wants to help the thrift grow and improve profits. The apparently friendly relationship is in stark contrast to its earlier relationship with management and an ongoing battle with another Garden State thrift, Cherry Hill-based IBS Financial Corp. (See story on this page.)

"We have a very good relationship" with the Wayne Bancorp management, Mr. Whitman said. "We want to own this because we want to help them grow the bank, grow the franchise, and-obviously- create something of value for ourselves, as well as the other shareholders."

He asserted that the group has "no intentions" of taking hostile actions. "We are with the bank," he said.

Officials of Wayne Bancorp say they will consult its attorneys and investment banker before the board adopts a formal position on the investors' application to the Office of Thrift Supervision. "I want to understand all the ramifications," said Harold P. Cook 3d, chairman and chief executive officer.

The relationship between the investor group and Wayne has improved markedly since the beginning of the year, when the investors waged a proxy battle to block a special stock option plan for the thrift's executives.

In late February the parties reached an agreement under which the investors would vote for the options plan and support the board's own nominees at the annual meeting. In exchange the thrift would add one director to represent the group, which would have the option of running an additional candidate next year. u

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