Oradell Postpones Land Use Board Merger Indefinitely

Discussions could continue in 2013 on whether the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board should be combined

With former and current Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board members having previously spoken against merging the two boards, the Oradell Mayor and Council indefinitely tabled an ordinance on Tuesday night that would have done just that.

Ordinance 12-18 which was initially supposed to be introduced Tuesday night was instead pulled from the agenda by Councilwoman Donna Alonso to allow the governing body additional time to discuss the merits of a potential merger. 

"I think it's important to talk about why we are tabling this versus just taking action without an explanation," Council President James Koth said. He added that if Alonso had not tabled the ordinance he would have done so. "I think a lot of discussion around this issue still needs to be had. This is a very divisive issue amongst the council and is not something that should be rushed."

One of the main reasons previously cited by Councilman Edward Pfleging towards merging the two boards has been a lack of applications before the Zoning Board over the past two years. While 2008 was a busy year for the Board as it held numerous special meetings for the Walgreens and CareOne applications, the last "major" application before the board was Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing plans.

When the Zoning Board of Adjustment does meet, it is charged with overseeing any appeals by a resident that an error was made by the borough zoning official, allowing for the approval of a C variance or granting D variances.

"I understand we have not been given a total reprieve," Zoning Board Chairman Marvin Michelman said. "We will work hard to earn your trust at every meeting. Whatever changes need to be made will be. If problems happened in the past, I have no power to go back and change that, but we as a board will work very hard to earn your trust."

The Planning Board which can also grant a C variance, on the other hand, primarlly focuses on crafting policy, updating the borough's master plan, subdivision control and conditional use permits. Its members have dedicated the past few years to drafting a historic element component to the master plan along with surveying all of the historic buildings in the borough.

Additionally, the Planning Board members are appointed by the Mayor, who also sits on the board along with a council representative. The Zoning Board members are appointed by the Council. Under a combined Land Use Board, the Zoning Board would be folded into the Planning Board, resulting in a board comprised of volunteers chosen and appointed only by the mayor.

The singular Land Use Board has been met with positive reviews in Dumont and Maywood  as well as Montvale. Rochelle Park had combined its two boards in 2010 on the basis of financial savings, but following a recovery opted to ask voters to restore the two boards 

While the Mayor and Council can approve the change to a single Land Use Board, a reversal of that would require a majority vote on a public referendum to restore the two individual boards.

Koth stated that the council would most likely continue to discuss any potential merger sometime in early 2013.

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