Builder’s plan for 39 homes draws ex-mayor’s objection

By karl vilacoba
Staff Writer

Builder’s plan for 39 homes
draws ex-mayor’s objection
By karl vilacoba
Staff Writer

MARLBORO — Citing what he calls a "very dangerous precedent" being set, former Mayor Saul Hornik once again said he will challenge an application currently before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in court if it is approved. It marks the second instance in as many months that Hornik has made such a warning.

At its Oct. 9 meeting, the board began its examination of an application from contract purchaser Marlboro Crest, LLC, to build 39 homes and a sewage pump station on a 20.2-acre parcel on Tennent Road. The applicants are requesting a use variance that would permit a subdivision in accordance with R-10 AH (residential affordable housing) standards in what is presently a C-2 (neighborhood commercial) zone.

Hornik maintains the application before the zoning board amounts to a zoning change, which is a Township Council responsibility.

Zoning board Chairwoman Sherry Hoffer vowed not to let Hornik’s legal threats disrupt a fair and impartial hearing on the application. An applicant can ask for whatever they want, but there’s no guarantee it will be approved, Hoffer said.

Zoning board attorney James Kinneally could not be reached for comment on the matter.

In September, Hornik and former council member Thomas Broderick threatened to challenge a 156-unit age-restricted condominium plan proposed on an 18.4-acre Route 79 tract in a C-2 zone by developer Intell New Jersey. That application is undecided and still before the zoning board.

Among several cited cases, the two objectors pointed to Feiler v. Fort Lee Board of Adjustment, in which an appellate court reversed the granting of a use variance to build a mixed commercial and high rise development in a mostly low density residential zone near the George Washington Bridge. The court said, "The board of adjustment blatantly arrogated itself the power to reject existing zoning and to substitute its idea of an appropriate zone plan. No board of adjustment has that power."

Some people dismissed the former officials’ challenge to the zoning board as a political ploy, an assertion Hornik denies.

"As a former mayor for 12 years, I have a vested interest in the welfare of this community," Hornik said. "Calling it politics is an excuse not to address the issue."

According to Robert Burchell, co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research and a professor at the Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, New Brunswick, the zoning board is within its jurisdiction to hear the applications. Approvals in such cases are "extraordinary" and must meet significant standards, he said.

In the past, "the main finding used to be that the situation has changed so dramatically from the original master plan that the zoning for this tract is no longer applicable," Burchell said.

Today, applicants usually need to show that the good associated with a zone change outweighs the bad. If concerned citizens disagree with a board’s finding in such cases, it is common for legal challenges to arise, Burchell said.

"There’s no reason to believe, on its face, that it has a very good chance of passage," Burchell said.

James Higgins, a planner on behalf of the applicant, noted two pluses for the township if the Marlboro Crest application is approved.

First, an approximately 5-acre strip of land on the property would be dedicated to Marlboro for open space purposes, he said. The land underneath Jersey Central Power and Light high tension wires was diagrammed in the form of two soccer fields before the board.

Board member Steven Sukel suggested that the area under the wires remain for passive recreation so children would not be exposed to any dangerous situations.

Second, the applicant vowed to make a contribution per home consistent with state Council On Affordable Housing requirements.

Higgins said there were few conforming uses in the area of the subject property and "the established character of the neighborhood is primarily residential." A large commercial development that would be allowed on the 20-acre tract would generate significantly more traffic, he added.

"I can’t see any negatives whatsoever by developing this commercial property residential," Higgins said. "In fact, I can only see positives."

One negative about granting the Marlboro Crest application, according to Hornik, is the ramifications it could have toward the many undeveloped tracts in the vicinity. If one parcel is developed in the form of high density housing, a domino effect could take place where other property owners could sue to get their land zoned accordingly, he said.

A continuation on the Marlboro Crest application was set for the zoning board’s Nov. 25 meeting.