Land use changes draw objections in Millstone

By louis c. hochman

MILLSTONE — Property owners have until April 5 to continue stating their objections to an ordinance that could make their undeveloped lots non-conforming.

The Township Committee on March 15 rejected on second reading an ordinance amending Millstone’s land use and development regulations, only to reintroduce the ordinance with minor changes and corrections.

Ordinance No. 00-09, and the revised version, Ordinance No. 00-10, would change the minimum lot area for minor and major subdivisions in rural and residential zones.

Ordinance No. 00-10 was approved for first reading and will come up for a public hearing on April 5.

The ordinance would change the R-80 zone, currently at 80,000 square feet per building lot, to 2 acres and denote it R-2; the R-130 zone, currently at 130,000 square feet, to 3 acres and denote it R-3; and the R-170 zone, currently at 170,000 square feet, to 4 acres and denote it R-4.

Property owners in attendance at the March 15 meeting said the change would make the 85 to 95 percent of developable properties in the zones that are already developed non-conforming, and that any change in the approved zoning sizes would make life difficult for more people than it would help.

Resident Paul Riviere, who was involved with the most recent revisions to Millstone’s master plan as a member of the Planning Board, said the idea of changing the zoning to clean multiples of acre sizes had been examined before, and rejected.

"We only tried to devote our efforts toward plans that would give the greatest benefit to the town," he said, adding that too much of the town was already built out for a change to have been productive.

"If you only have (approximately) 5 percent left (to develop) in the R-80 area, why would you want to grandfather 95 percent of the town?" Riviere asked the committee.

He said action changing the zoning could attract lawsuits from property owners and developers.

Legal action has been threatened, but has not yet been taken, Township Attorney Duane Davison said.

Riviere said the proposed change is unfair to people who have made plans to sell all or part of land they own based on the current zoning.

"What you’re going to do is hurt a lot of people who plan to subdivide their land, maybe to one other home, and pay for college or retirement," he said.

He said the ordinance’s benefits — which would apply to undeveloped land — aren’t worth the trouble they could bring.

"I’m concerned that it’s convoluted and complicated, and the benefits are minimal," Riviere said.

Bill McNeill, a former member of the Township Committee, criticized the governing body for changing and repealing ordinances in general too quickly.

He said a great deal of effort had been put into their creation and that the committee wasn’t considering the long-term consequences of its actions.

"You’re far too fast to take ordinances off the books that we took a long time to put in," he said.

He said township officials shouldn’t have removed the industrial commission from Millstone’s ordinances, referring to a decision made several weeks ago by the committee.

McNeill said officials also shouldn’t be working to put developers off, but should instead work to bring in ratables that don’t adversely affect residents or the township’s rural character.

"Use advice from the people who have served before," he told the committee members. "There’s not a lot that was put in the ordinances that wasn’t put there for a reason. … You shouldn’t tamper with these ordinances because you’re infringing on the things that were done."

McNeill called the current proposed zoning changes an example of hasty change and said the concern from property owners and some residents who have lived in Millstone for most of their lives should illustrate that.

"You people are in a very responsible position, and you’ve got to use care and restraint with what you do," he said to the committee.

Committeeman William Nurko, who previously stated that the committee might be trying to tackle too many things at once, agreed with some of McNeill’s comments.

"I think we need to slow down a little bit and make sure we really know what we’re doing and it’s done well," Nurko said. "I want to make sure I know what I’m doing and I’m representing the township properly."

The land use change is the second the committee has introduced to the displeasure of property owners this month.

Property owners came before the committee on March 1 in a failed attempt to stop the governing body from adopting Ordinance No. 00-04, which amends requirements for neighborhood commercial zones, highway commercial zones and residential transitional zones. It also converts commercial industrial zones to highway commercial zones and amends zoning from R-80 to R-170 in certain areas.

Kevin Coaklay told the committee at the March 1 meeting that he owned a property that had been subdivided under the regulations of an R-80 zone and said he didn’t want his lots to become non-conforming.

"As common sense will tell you, when you have lots that are divided under a certain measure, (and the measure changes), it will make every lot non-conforming and it will make life hectic for someone down the line," he said.

But Davison said property owners still have a number of rights to develop their land after zoning changes are made. He said developers who get preliminary site approval have protection against zoning changes for three years, and that period can be extended for two years or longer.

In addition, Davison said, residents whose lots are made undersized by zoning changes do not have to go before the Planning Board for variances if they want to add ancillary structures, such as pool sheds or decks.

Mark Preston, who owns property in the Clarksburg section of Millstone, told the committee it would have to remove his land from those properties listed as changing to R-170. Under the terms of a preliminary site approval he received, he said, the Planning Board entered into an agreement not to rezone his land.

On Davison’s recommendation, Preston’s land was removed from the proposed zoning changes.

Davison told the committee that because a formal protest against the ordinance had been filed, it would need at least a two-thirds vote to pass it. He said he could not be sure the protest had been filed in time, but to be safe the committee should act as though it had.

Only Nurko voted against the ordinance, No. 00-04, leaving it approved 4-1, with affirmative votes from committeemen William Kastning, Cory Winger-ter, Charles Abate and Evan Maltz.