By FRED T. ROSSI
Specially Written for The Leader/Times
SCOTCH PLAINS – The township council on August 18 gave its unanimous approval to three ordinances that will put into place overlay zones on stretches of properties in the seven phases slated for development as part of the downtown redevelopment effort. The council’s action completes its court-mandated obligations for the next five years and will allow township officials to now turn their attention to actual redevelopment matters.
Last year, a court mandated that the township enact the overlay zones by June 30, 2020, for properties along two segments of Terrill Road, two segments of East Second Street, Park Avenue from East Second Street to the Fanwood border, the central business district, where four township-owned properties are the initial focus of the committee’s redevelopment efforts, and the Snuffy’s property near Route 22.
The court granted an extension of the June 30 deadline was granted several months ago. Similar overlay zones have already been put into place on properties near the Scotch Hills Country Club that are targeted for housing developments.
At Tuesday evening’s council meeting, redevelopment coordinator Thomas Strowe explained that an overlay zone is basically “a zone on top of a zone,” which in effect adds a second zone to an existing one that will allow a developer to build on a property that may not be designated for, say, multi-unit housing.
During past council and redevelopment committee meetings, it also has been emphasized that private property owners will make any decisions on what they want to do with their properties located in these new zones. They will not be obligated in any way to redevelop their properties or to sell to a developer.
Mayor Alexander Smith called the ordinance approvals a “long process finally coming to an end,” while Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo expressed his hope that the ordinances will lead to “careful development, not overdevelopment.” He added that the ordinances will “jumpstart big changes in town.”
In other business, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve an ordinance rezoning the wedge-shaped property at 2650 Route 22 that is adjacent to Mountain Avenue from R-Residential to B-Business. Councilwoman Elizabeth Stamler cast the lone vote against the zone change.
S&G Fuel 2650 LLC, which operates the gasoline station and service center on the property, sought the zoning change, which raised protests from nearby residents. Six homeowners spoke in opposition to the zone change August 18, calling attention to the possibility of potential future expansion of the property, which some said would have negative effects on the neighborhood. Others spoke of the appearance of the property at the present time, pointing to numerous cars parked on the property as well as large number of tires and other debris stored around the building. “Don’t prioritize senseless overdevelopment,” one resident pleaded to the governing body.
Stephen Hehl, the attorney for the property owner, spoke briefly at the public hearing and pointed out that if the owners wanted to make any significant changes to the property, they would still need to make an application to one of the local land-use boards. He noted that the property has historically been used for commercial purposes.
Tuesday’s meeting was held outdoors on the Alan Augustine Village Green. Township Manager Alexander Mirabella said that, to his knowledge, it was the first municipal governing body meeting to ever be held outside in New Jersey. The five council members along with other township officials were seated at a long desk on the Village Green stage, with the setting sun bathing them in an orange glow for the first half hour of the 70-minute meeting. It is unclear if future meetings also will be held outdoors, but Mr. Mirabella said on Tuesday that the municipal building will remain closed at least through the end of September.
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