By Jack Bredin, researcher @Blogfinger
In the recent Bloginger post about #58-60 Main Avenue (The Pizza Building,) it was suggested that if someone opposed the proposed variances that they should attend the public hearing on Dec. 14 at the Planning Board where this matter would be heard. You could voice your opinion during the public portion, but you will only get 5 minutes.
About 10 years ago, I attended a Board of Adjustment meeting to oppose a variance. My experience speaks to the obstacles that sometimes are placed in the path of well-meaning citizens trying to voice their objections to public policy changes. The details of that experience are included in order to appreciate the sort of issues that affect our lives at the various Boards in Neptune Township.
I was there to object to an application requesting a use variance to subdivide a conforming 30’ x 60’ lot into two (2) narrow 15’x60’ illegal, non-conforming, under-sized lots within 200’ of my house.
The applicant’s professional planner did not introduce any testimony to support granting a use variance.
He just made a “conclusionary statement” that if the variance were approved, it would advance the intent and purpose of the Master Plan and the Zoning Ordinance,” in his professional opinion.
His professional opinion was nonsense.
The intent of the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance is to reduce rather than increase non-conformity, and land can only be subdivided into conforming lots. The minimum lot size in Ocean Grove is 30’x 60’ and not 15’x60.’
However, the planner’s arbitrary opinion went unchallenged by members of the Zoning Board and the Board’s attorney, planner, and their engineer. The file for the application contained no report from the Board’s planner or engineer. There were no objections from the Camp Meeting Association or the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association.
After the conclusion of the applicant’s presentation, and without questions or objections from the Board or their Professionals, the only evidence on the record was in support of an approval of the subdivision by the applicant’s planner as noted above.
The meeting was then open to the public. I was the only member of the public to speak and I would be allowed only five minutes at the microphone.
Pursuant to the N.J. State Rules of Hearing Procedure, I had equal standing with the applicant’s professional planner to present an opposing case with no time limit.
My first question for the planner was: “What use variance are you asking for: D-1, 2,3,4, or 5?
He didn’t know what variance they were asking for.
When the planner turned toward the applicants attorney for help, I took the opportunity to question the Board’s attorney, “What use variance is the Board considering?” He had no answer and turned toward the Zoning Board’s planner. There was a long moment of silence that was broken when the Land Use Administrator loudly announced. “YOUR TIME IS UP!!”
I was only one minute into my presentation. I had asked only one question and got no answer. And so I said, “What?”
She answered, “Sit down! Your time is up!”
I said, “Are you kidding me?”
The Chairwoman said, “We do have a 5 minute limit here.”
I then asked, “Is there another public portion on the meeting agenda where I can address the Board?
The Land Use Administrator answered for the Chairwoman by saying, “No! You just want to further your case, and we won’t let you. NOW! SIT DOWN !”
While all of this was going on, the Mayor and a member of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Assoc. were calling out from the back of the meeting room, “Sit down! Your time is up!”
The Planning and Zoning Board’s 5 minute rule is inconsistent with the Municipal Land Use Law. I reported this to the Township Committee, and they didn’t care.
The 5 minute rule is still in place.
Editor’s Note: There is a history of stifling dissent at Neptune meetings. Old timers describe how discussion on a controversial agenda item would be cancelled for some phony procedural reason when a large number of Grovers would show up. They would reschedule when they knew the public would not come out, such as during a bad storm.
This story is similar to a more recent one (2015) in which we described how Jack was not permitted to finish his 5 minute comment during a Township Committee meeting. Here is a link:
By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger
HARRY NILSSON from the movie “Midnight Cowboy.”