Summit Council Agrees to Waive Community Garden Site Plan Application Fees, But Retains Escrow Requirement; Broker Calls for More User-Friendly Zoning
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 • 7:27am
SUMMIT, NJ--Community groups seeking to establish a community garden off Beauvoir Avenue near Overlook Hospital came closer to their goal on Tuesday evening as the Summit Common Council agreed to waive $1,450 in site plan application fees for the garden.
Summit YMCA Executive Director Darrell Johnson told the council that the idea of the garden came about due to a grant received by the YMCA through a program administered through the federal Centers for Disease Control. The CDC program, in an effort to fight obesity and encourage more healthy lifestyles has awarded grants throughout the United States, Johnson said.
He added the hospital has agreed to donate the land for the garden. It is situated in an area where houses formerly stood.
Johnson noted several community organizations are involved in raising funds, which will be used both to pay for the construction of the garden and to provide gardening tools and assistance to Summit residents unable to afford materials. The purpose of this program is in to encourage healthier lifestyles among under-served populations.
Summit Environmental Commission member Marion Glenn added those supporting the garden hope to begin construction this spring pending approval by the city’s board of adjustment. A hearing on the community garden application is scheduled for Monday, February 25 at 7:30 pm in Summit City Hall.
Council Finance Committee Chairman David Bomgaars said Tuesday that his committee recommended waiving the site plan approval fee, but wished to retain the escrow requirement to protect the city.
Councilman Thomas Getzendanner said the group had chosen a good site for the garden and he supported the effort, but did not want to see the city’s zoning regulations “short-circuited.”
On another zoning matter, licensed real estate broker Robert Steelman appealed to the council to promote business and residential development in Summit by, among other measures, eliminating the requirement for a zoning certificate of occupancy before a new owner occupies a building.
Steelman noted, particularly among those wishing to take over premises from an existing business, the requirement for a zoning certificate of occupancy presents a hardship.
He pointed out the fee involved with the certificate can range from $100 to $1,000 and prospective owners must agree to have their property inspected by a zoning official who may be available only within a limited “window” of time that might only be open about four hours per week.
In addition, he said, currently property owners currently are given only 30 days to correct what the inspectors consider deficient and re-inspections must occur within the same narrow time span as the first inspection.
The broker also cited language in a guide to land use that says it is unconstitutional to require a zoning certificate prior to occupancy.
He complained that more than 10,000 transactions go through Summit’s zoning department per year and many “sit in limbo” because handwritten comments on inspection reports are not processed quickly enough.
The broker suggested that the city upgrade the technology in its zoning office to make the process more user-friendly.
Council President Richard Madden said Steelman apparently had many positive recommendations for the city zoning process and suggested that he meet with Department of Community Services Director Beth Kinney and council Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Gregory Drummond to review his suggestions.
Kinney noted that direct questions about the zone status of a property generally can be answered without completion of an application just by contacting a zoning official.
She added the department expects to complete the upgrade of technology dealing with the Uniform Construction Code by the end of this year.
In another presentation, Frank Juliano, executive director of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum, told the governing body that construction on the facility’s “gateway project” and recovery from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is moving along well.
Juliano noted 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the arboretum and the staff plans to have a grand reopening celebration from 4 to 6 p.m. on May 20.
In addition, he said, the arboretum will sponsor an “Environmental and Personal Empowerment Camp” for Hispanic young women this summer.
The facility, even prior to its full reopening, has planned other activities, he noted. For example, the annual maple sugaring event will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. Juliano said members of the public may park on streets near the arboretum and they will be admitted through the pedestrian walkway.
Band concerts also are planned later this year, he said, and Art in the Garden will take place on June 1.
On another matter, discontent with taxation and spending by Union County’s government again showed up on Tuesday evening as Councilman Patrick Hurley voted against approval of the payment of the city’s bills because they included quarterly county tax payments and payments to the Union County Open Space Fund.
Hurley, noting Summit, with only about 4 percent of the county’s population, is faced with 11 percent tax increases. He called Union County’s government “taxation without representation” (Summit has not had a representative on the county board of chosen freeholders in about two decades) and called the county tax equalization formulas attempts to redistribute wealth around the county.
Madden and Getzendanner said they both agreed wholeheartedly with Hurley’s comments, but noted the city had little choice but to pay its legally-obligated bills.
Madden urged Hurley to again raise his comments at the council budget workshop on Wednesday, February 20, and Getzendanner again pressed for a citywide revaluation which he said would help even out the equalization ratio more in Summit’s favor.
Bomgaars added that, in New Jersey, the municipalities are obligated to be collectors of taxes owed to counties and schools. In other states, he said, the counties collect their taxes directly from residents and businesses.