Council Votes Against Meeting With Planner On Rezoning United Water Property
Majority votes to set aside meeting with the planner on rezoning, effectively allowing the application for the development of the United Water Company property to run its course through the Zoning Board.
In a 4-2 vote, Council President Howard Berner (R) cast his vote with councilwomen Randi Duffie (D) and Hedy Grant (D), and councilman Austin Ashley (D) against proceeding with discussions with the planner regarding the rezoning the United Water Company property during Monday's Mayor and Council work session. This effectively allows the application for the development of the United Water Property to run its course through the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Plans for the 13.6-acre United Water property filed by the S. Hekemian Group call for a mixed use development that includes a 70,500 sq. ft. supermarket, 4300 sq. ft. bank and 221-unit multi-family housing complex with a four-story 428 spaced parking garage and is currently being heard before the Zoning Board.
During their June 11 meeting, the Mayor and Council voted for a rezoning study of the 13-acre United Water property by Zoning Board planner Paul Grygiel, of Phillips Preiss and Grygiel LLC.
Mayor Ann Subrizi intended the study to determine whether the Mayor and Council can rezone the property and come to a "less intensive use" that would better suit the character of the town.
Placing affordable housing on that property is the crux of the developer's argument before the zoning board and in calling for the study, Subrizi said, "I need the planner to say we can fulfill COAH elsewhere or we can rezone [the property] for a less intensive use."
Although the application would have proceeded regardless of the rezoning study, if the council chose to rezone the property, and rezoned it to the liking of the developer, it is possible that the developer would have relinquished his current application in favor of the new zoning.
SOD (Stop Over Development) organized a march in September urging the Mayor and Council to resist rezoning the property at this time.
"Rezoning the property is giving the developer what he wanted from the beginning," SOD Executive Director, Miriam Pickett said during the march. "We need to let the Zoning Board do their job and let the application run its course."
During Monday's work session, Councilman Dominic Colucci (R) said that the motion for a special meeting would have given the council an opportunity to hear what options are available should they need it "down the road."
Councilman Diego Robalino (R) questioned the validity of Councilmen Berner and Ashley's vote against meeting with the planner since they had previously recused themselves from voting on any issues involving the United Water property. Ashley has recused himself because he has retained counsel to represent him at the Zoning Board hearings in objection of the development and Berner has recused himself because his company has done business with Hekemian.
Borough Attorney Mark Madaio said that he does not yet know the legality of Berner and Ashley's vote against meeting with the planner and is still in the process of getting a ruling on it.