West Orange Council Considers Simplification of Zoning Variance Process
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 • 7:03am
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Township Council meeting of May 29 was uncharacteristically long owing to some pressing concerns in the conference meeting , which began late and lasted well over an hour before the regular meeting began.
The conference meeting included a report from deputy planning director Susan Borg on revising numerous zoning ordinances to simplify the process of getting variances from the township. Several contradictory and antiquated ordinances were identified for elimination by a group of volunteers, who also recommended the rewording of the language of other zoning rules. Mayor Robert Parisi welcomed the report as a step toward streamlining local government.
Councilman Joe Krakoviak, a perennial watchdog on disseminating information, urged the township to make the recommendations of the volunteer panel available on the township website.
"We're about to make a ton of changes to the ordinances, and correct me if I'm wrong, but most of the people, most of the residents of the town [who] would likely be affected by this have not had a chance to look at this," Krakoviak said. Parisi assured him that any zoning changes passed by ordinance on first reading would be publicized. Council President Patty Spango, as a business owner, welcomed the opportunity to simplify the permit process for businesses as well as or residents.
Residential issues came to the forefront in the form of affordable housing. During the conference meeting, affordable housing consultant Shirley Bishop reviewed the complicated history of the state Council On Affordable Housing and its controversial timetable for municipalities to provide affordable housing by an indeterminate means or risk forfeiture of municipal housing funds to the state.
To prevent such forfeiture, Bishop urged the council to adopt the housing-related regulations on the agenda for the public meeting - a resolution calling for the state to extend the July 2012 deadline to commit funds to housing with guidance from Trenton on expediting the process; a resolution amending the spending plan for housing to include $1.6 million in subsidies to rehabilitate housing stock, $250,000 for a group home, and $771,342 for emergency housing repairs; a resolution implementing the emergency repair program; a resolution allocating money for special needs housing, and; a resolution allowing $35,000 loans for qualifying homeowners to make repairs on homes and live in them for twelve years in return for the loan to be forgiven.
"The whole intention is to get money on the street," Parisi said of the last resolution. "If people make that commitment and stay for twelve years ,they pay taxes for twelve years, they continue to maintain their homes for twelve years." Such a commitment to the township, Parisi said, pumps money into the local tax base and benefits the community by keeping existing houses in good shape. Under the plan, a family of four would qualify for a $35,000 loan if the family income is less than $71,532 a year.
All of the housing resolutions passed immediately through consent agenda. Much of the council's public meeting, which lasted over two and a half hours, on debates over other ordinances. One ordinance awarding D'Onofrio Landscaping of Maplewood a contract to maintain parcels of municipal land was pulled for debate by Councilman Sal Anderton, who expressed concern that further outsourcing would compromise public services. Parisi said his administration's submission of the ordinance was to provide a cost-effective balance between outsourced workers and public employees. Township Engineer Leonard Lepore concurred, adding that hiring the landscaping firm on a short-term basis through the year was more cost-effective than a long term contract, and any deal with D'Onofrio for 2013 would be based on the quality of D'Onofrio's work in 2012.
Anderton, while understanding of the need for more personnel, was unconvinced of the mayor's approach and voted against the resolution, which passed with everyone else on the council voting yes.
Krakoviak pulled for debate a resolution awarding a $35,000 contract to Barreto /Dowd Landscaping of Howell Township to landscape the grounds at 55-57 Ridgeway Avenue, an area near Prospect Avenue the residents have sought to preserve, for a "passive park."
"Everyone knows I'm not a big fan of non-competitive proposals or bidding," Krakoviak said. "We're not asking for competitive proposals."
Parisi said he chose the landscapers based on their understanding of and familiarity with the property and the feedback the township got from local residents. Decisions regarding the buildings already on the property had not been made, and the resolution called for concentrating first on the grounds. Parisi said he put the proposal forward with the belief that Barreto/Dowd was the right firm for the job.
"If the council wants it bid out, we'll bid it out," he said.
The council instead approved the resolution 4-1, with Krakoviak in opposition.