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Zoning, Planning Members Speak Out Against Combined Board

The Oradell Council will continue to debate the benefits, detriments of a joint Land Use Board at a later date

While towns like Maywood, Dumont and Montvale have all successfully merged their Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustments, Oradell continues to debate the merits of following in their footsteps. During a public hearing on the matter Wednesday night, members from both boards who spoke before the governing body were overwhelmingly against the idea.

"Dissolving the Zoning Board and transfering its duties to the Planning Board is solely at your discretion," Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Marvin Michelman said. "But I ask what are the benefits to the residents and what are the detriments. There are no economic benefits and each board deal with separate issues."

According to the borough's ordinance, a zoning board of adjustment will oversee the following applications: appeals by a resident that an error was made by the borough zoning official, allowing for the approval of a C variance for permitted deviation from the zoning ordinance and the granting D variances which authorizes a land use not normally permitted by the zoning ordinance.

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. 

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.

"Eliminating the Zoning Board and turning over all of its responsibility to the Planning Board is like walking into quicksand," Michelman said. "It's easy to enter but harder to exit."

While the Mayor and Council could 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 individiual boards.

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. Oradell has explored the potential merger due to a lack applications being presented before either board.

"Once the economy improves, the Zoning Board will be busier," Zoning Board member Val McHale said. "Having one board may not attract a diverse group of citizens to volunteer their time to the community. The work would still exist, it would be done by less people."

Members of the Planning Board also spoke against the merger, citing that work to improve and strengthen the master plan must be done. Previously the Planning Board has 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.

"The board's goal is to preserve the resources of the town and look to its future," Planning Board Chairman Bill Paxson said. "Our main point is in the planning realm and that's what we should be putting 50% to 75% of our time and energy into." 

Going forward, the Planning Board intends to begin work on an environmental component to the master plan that would allow for a sustainable design ordinance to help the town with protecting the environment, what is already built and against tear down projects.

"We are a built out town but the pressure to retain the town's character is there," Planning Board member Mary Land said. "Having two boards allows the Zoning Board to focus more on the legal aspects while the Planning Board looks to the mater plan and its longterm impacts. We need to have a way to keep Oradell the way we like it."

The Mayor and Council are expected to continue discussing the proposed merger during a work session at a later date. 

Residents who were unable to attend the hearing are encourage to submit their concerns and comments in writing to Borough Clerk Laura Graham, 355 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell.

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