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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.

 

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Ann Piccirillo at annpiccirillo@yahoo.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

miriam pickett November 13, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Common sense prevails! Thank you Councilwomen Grant and Duffie and Councilmen Berner and Ashley. New Milford is now in a position to proceed to the next step in this process unencumbered by the threat of rezoning to the United Water property. SOD will continue the fight to keep this property as part of our community's heritage. United together we will win! We invite Mayor Subrizi and Councilmen Robalino and Colucci to join us in the struggle against a greedy developer who has no ties to this community and who cares nothing about the quality of life of our community. Tonight is the Board of Adjustment meeting. Come out and show your opposition to removing this open space from our town.
Ulises November 13, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Thank you to the members that voted for this, it's the right thing to do. Yet, Colucci and Robalino are on the side of what most think is the wrong thing to do. It seems the seventh council member, board attorney Madio, will look into the validity of this vote since he obviously favors Subrizi, Colucci, and Robalino that want the Mega Strip Mall as their legacy. November couldn't get here any sooner to vote Colucci and Robalino out of office. They are just giving the entire council to the Democrats because they are not listening to their constituents and they caused their Party the election last week. Thank you Berner for realizing how wrong Colucci, Robalino and Subrizi are when it comes to the United Water property. You and Peter Rebsch should leave the GOP, become Independents, because it seems come November the Republicans will lose it all again because they're concerned more about the interest of the developers and InSerra than the residents of New Milford.
Howard Berner November 13, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Just to clarify Councilman Robalino's remarks, the company I work for has no association with and has never done business with Hekemian. Their attorney, Andy DelVecchio, has represented the company I work for on a matter involving a sub-division in Park Ridge.
TommyIce November 13, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Now's not the time to be complacent and trust that the newly elected council members will "do the right thing" by the taxpaying residents of New Milford. Their feet need to be held to the fire so that they don't falter and realize DeBari's dream for him.
Nicholas D'Amelio November 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Let everyone Republicans or Democrats stop worrying about the dreams of Mayor Subrizi’s or Ex- Mayor DeBaris’s. Let’s go forward and do the will of the people. Most of the citizens’ who vote in the past elections do not want a field of dreams or do they want to have the United Water property developed. These are the fact like it or not the voter have spoken no matter if you are a Republican or a Decorate, or it you were in favor or not in favor of the field dreams or the development of the United Water property, just do what the people want done and let us all stop playing politics. We need to work to getter to get things done. I do not know how anyone else feels but I am getting tired of what is going on in Washington and what is going on in our town.
Sam B. November 13, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Goes to show you the intelligence of Subrizi and her two henchmen. As long as they remain pro-development their short lived political careers will certainly be over when they come up for re-election. This development must have some significant benefits for them otherwise it makes no sense.
james November 13, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I agree Ulises. Berner and Rebsch should go independent so we can have more choices in Nov. Colucci and Robalino will never get another vote from me or my family.

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