Can your town suddenly decide to zone one lot differently from its neighbors? No. That’s “spot-zoning.” If’s illegal in New Jersey.
But there is an exception if the lot is arguably “blighted” or “in need of redevelopment,” according to a state law designed to help poor towns attract new construction. It allows what amounts to legalized spot-zoning.
For years, real estate developers have abused that exception.
They’ve used it to get around normal zoning laws in towns that have no trouble attracting investors.
They’ve used it to sweep away normal zoning rules for properties that aren’t blighted or needy at all.
They’ve used it to qualify for whopping property tax breaks that enrich the developers at the expense of residents.
Sometimes they’ve used it to get title to public land without the normal checks and balances.
The courts usually turn a blind eye to that kind of abuse.
Now it seems the state Supreme Court is beginning to tighten up the criteria for designating a property “in need of redevelopment.”
In a case published this month, the Court rejected the designation of the West Orange library as an “area in need of redevelopment” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(d) simply because it was old, out of style, and needed repair. The Court also put to rest the ideas the mere assertion that a place is dilapidated, obsolescent, etc. will suffice, or that courts should defer to the township’s judgment on the score.
To satisfy N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(d), the township must show both:
1) evidence of “dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout; and
2) that, as a result, the premises “are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.”
Great news for anyone trying to rein in overdevelopment,
Why would our Chatham Borough Council even consider gifting our River Road PILOT money to anyone when we’re in such desperate need of fire trucks and other necessities?
That was the elephant in the room at the Monday, 3/13 meeting of our Borough Council.
The elephant got loose during a presentation by a principal of BNE, the developer of the massive, stick-built apartment project going up at the corner of Watchung Avenue and River Road.
Asked if our volunteer fire department has the equipment, the manpower, and the training necessary to fight a real fire at River Road, the presenter, a principal with the developer, BNE Real Estate Group, said, “Yes, currently Chatham Borough has what they need to fight a fire in that building.” See the video linked below starting about 1:18:20 & 1:25:00 and 28:30.
Brave, dedicated, and skilled as they are, our volunteer firefighters need more personnel, more training, and far newer fire trucks than Chatham Borough has or can provide anytime soon, according to longtime, respected Borough resident Robert Penn, a former captain in the Bloomfield Fire Department who worked in the fire service for 44 years and has taught classes in Building Construction and Advanced Firefighting Tactics and Strategy. (Go to minute 37:46 in the following video:0)
Popular Borough Council Member Len Resto is working on getting the fire trucks we need. It will cost a bundle. The Council should use our PILOT money for tax relief and fire trucks, not for gifts. Certainly not without the informed consent of Chatham residents.
That the Council would even consider giving away our PILOT money without our consent is mind boggling. It’s a great example of what can happen when we don’t hold our elected representatives accountable for their decisions.
If the Council explains the situation, and residents vote to give away our PILOT money anyway, that’s their choice. But residents are entitled to know what’s at stake before any decisions are made.
But so far, the Council seems bent on simply divvying up the taxpayers’ PILOT money in the back room and without public scrutiny.
For instance, they’re prepared to hand over some of the taxpayers’ PILOT money to the School Board.
That would be bad for Chatham Borough and for the School Board.
It would deprive the Borough of funds it needs to meet absolute necessities, like new fire apparatus.
Gifting Borough funds to the School District could leave the School Board beholden to the Council and ensnare our schools in party politics.
Our School Board shouldn’t put itself in that position. The School Board already has ways to get all the money it needs.
Even with declining enrollment, the School Board automatically gets 102% of last year’s budget, plus whatever it takes to meet certain other expenses.
With school parents making up the biggest voting block, the School Board can raise additional funds simply asking the taxpayers to vote on that by the normal, aboveboard process of referendum or second question.
Here’s how Bill Heap explained the issue at the December 12 School Board meeting, at minutes 2:27:29 and 2:50:20:
You think that simply giving PILOT payments to the Board of Ed might reduce our property taxes? No. It wouldn’t reduce our taxes at all.
The Board of Ed would get the PILOT money ON TOP of AT LEAST 102% of last year’s school budget, to which they’re entitled by law.
What’s more, at least half of any PILOT funds given to the schools would, in effect, benefit nearby Chatham Township, though it bears none of the burdens associated with the River Road project.
Bill Heap’s argument against allocating PILOT money to the Chatham schools without public consent has the support of Stewart Carr, a civic-minded, longtime Township resident and registered municipal advisor.
Mr. Carr has urged the Board of Ed to “take the high road and not ask the municipality for extra [PILOT] money, but rather ask the taxpayers directly for that money.”
Check out this clip from the Feb 6 meeting of the BOE, at minute 1:26:31
Chathamites who are in-the-know agree that the Borough Council should not spend the PILOT money without the approval of residents:
Do you approve of the Council’s plans to divvy up the PILOT money without consulting the public?
Would you prefer that the Borough Council let us decide how to use our money – or simply use it to reduce taxes?
Don’t wait until it’s a done deal!
Come to the Borough Council meetings on Feb. 13, and Feb. 27, 2023 at 7:30 PM, Borough Hall, upper level, 54 Fairmount Avenue.
What do you think of the proposed design for Chatham’s Post Office Plaza?
You’re going to pay for it, so you’re entitled to have your say!
Share your views now, while there’s still time to make a difference.
E-mail Borough Administrator Steve Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org), Professional Planner Kendra Lelie (email@example.com), and us (BrigidMcMenamin@msn.com) with your comments and questions.
Some residents have asked, for instance:
What will the place look like from Bowers Lane, or from the public parking lot?
Will the route along the south side of the Post Office Annex (leading from our public parking lot to Bowers Lane) still be a road, or only an alley?
Should we place the first floor windows a little higher to make the headlights less annoying to first floor residents? Or might taller bushes suffice?
Will there be a sidewalk between the parking lot and the building?
Will the requisite electric charging station take up one of the scarce 17 parking spaces? Will non-residents be allowed to use it?
Where will the new residents park their bikes, scooters, and strollers?
Yesterday morning, after three tense public hearings, Morris County Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury soundly rejected the Kushners’ brazen attempt to cram an unpopular 100-rental unit project on mostly public land behind our Main Street Post Office.
That decision frees Chatham Borough to meet part of its affordable housing requirements by building a 15-unit apartment house there, as our Mayor & Council voted on May 2.
For a quick summary, watch the video of Mayor Kobylarz’s comments in this Tap story:
Will the Kushners accept that outcome and let Chatham build some affordable housing at Post Office Plaza, or will they continue to sue, appeal, and otherwise try to block progress? Stay tuned here and at this FB group: