Jul 29, 2014

Oradell Advances Plans to Merge Zoning/Planning Boards

Over concerns by residents, the Council voted 4-2 to begin drafting an ordinance to form a combined Land Use Board

Oradell Advances Plans to Merge Zoning/Planning Boards

Before the end of the year is out, Oradell may see the merger of its Planning Board and Board of Adjustment as the Council voted 4-2 to begin drafting an ordinane outling the consolidation. The measure will have to be officially introduced in November and then approved to take affect following the new year.

"There is no secret that I'm supportive of moving in this direction," Councilman Edward Pfleging said. "I firmly believe in a reorganized board is a more effective and efficient way to manage this process in Oradell now and in the future. We need to look to the future of efficient and effective ways to streamline things and smaller government in Oradell."

One of the main reasons towards merging the two boards has been a lack of applications before the Zoning Board over the past two years. While 2008 was a busy year for the Board as it held numerous special meetings for the Walgreens and CareOne applications, the last "major" application before the board was Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing plans.

When the Zoning Board of Adjustment does meet, it is charged with overseeing any appeals by a resident that an error was made by the borough zoning official, allowing for the approval of a C variance or granting D variances.

The Planning Board which can also grant a C variance, on the other hand, primarlly focuses on crafting policy, updating the borough's master plan, subdivision control and conditional use permits. Its members have dedicated the past few years to drafting a  historic element component  to the master plan along with  surveying all of the historic buildings in the borough.

Additionally, the Planning Board members are appointed by the Mayor, who also sits on the board along with a council representative. The Zoning Board members are appointed by the Council. Under a combined Land Use Board, the Zoning Board would be folded into the Planning Board, resulting in a board comprised of volunteers chosen and appointed only by the mayor.

"I can't see one positive of having one board for the residents," resident Sam Tripsas said. "I can only envision a streamlined process for developers to come in and developer our town in their image rather than ours. We have 8,000 residents in our small town, any relaxed zoning with increased building heights or reduced setbacks would be a disaster for our small community."

The singular Land Use Board has been met with positive reviews in  Dumont and Maywood  as well as  Montvale. Rochelle Park had combined its two boards in 2010 on the basis of financial savings, but following a recovery opted to  ask voters to restore the two boards

"Its nice to hear how this has worked in other towns, but have you gone to these towns and seen how their meetings are run, spoken to their members in order to make a factual decision," questioned resident Joe Polyniak. "I would hope your decisions are made based on facts and not thoughts or feelings."

During a public hearing in September, members from both the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment overwhelming spoke against the proposed merger. 

At that time Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Marvin Michelman likened the situation to "walking into quicksand...easy to enter but harder to exit."

While the Mayor and Council can approve the change to a single Land Use Board, a reversal of that would require a majority vote on a public referendum to restore the two individiual boards.

Both Councilmen Garrie Murphy and Eric Shuler voted against moving forward with drafting ordinance while Pfleging was supported by council members James Koth, Donna Alonso and Tony Meo.

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