Questions surround combining boards


By darlene diebold

FAIR HAVEN — Despite being proposed at the end of last year, the Borough Council has yet to act on combining the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The ordinance to do so was reintroduced at the Jan. 8 workshop meeting of the council and was slated to be adopted at the meeting on Monday, but the vote was tabled.

When the proposal was first introduced, questions were raised about why the move was being made. At Monday’s meeting, a Zoning Board member asked the same questions of the mayor and council.

Under state law, towns with populations of fewer than 15,000 residents are permitted to combine the boards. Little Silver recently combined its boards to provide time for volunteers and to reduce professional costs.

Laurence Quigley, who has served on the Zoning Board for more than 10 years, said, "I do not oppose the concept of combining the boards if it would be superior to the two-board arrangement we currently use in Fair Haven.

"However, I am skeptical whether the proposed combined board would produce the unsubstantiated benefits set forth in the preamble to the ordinance, specifically reducing costs and increasing efficiency," he added.

The preamble states, "The Mayor and Borough Council have reviewed and determined that this consolidation will benefit the residents and property owners in the Borough by reducing costs of professional fees, and that one board (with the increased number of alternates) handling Borough land use applications will improve the efficiency and continuity of planning and zoning matters and issues."

Quigley argued that because of the high number of applications that are currently before both boards, with residential renovations, demolitions and rebuilding, the meetings will have to be held twice a month, which causes two concerns. First, it could be argued that no real money will be saved in attorneys’ and engineering fees. The second concern would be finding qualified volunteers who would be willing to attend 24 meetings a year, which generally run for more than two hours.

"In the absence of a demonstrated advantage of a combined board, we would appear to be trying to fix a problem that does not exist," Quigley said. "This is certainly not an urgent matter. We are not in crisis. I believe we need more information to make an informed decision."

He asked Mayor William Leonard and the council to table the ordinance until further data can be gathered.

Little Silver, Oceanport, Atlantic Highlands, Eatontown and Shrewsbury have all combined their boards, and have not reported any problems.

Councilman Richard Magovern said that he has spoken with people about the combined boards in other towns. He believes that they work efficiently and effectively, but he said, "I can see absolutely no cost savings."

Magovern does think that the proposed combined board may be more effective because the combined body would be aware of all the applications before it. Magovern also is concerned about the volunteers. He said that he would like to discuss the proposal with the Planning Board, of which he is a member.

Under the proposal, the combined board will have nine members and four alternates. The Planning Board will remain in place with Zoning Board members becoming the alternates.

The public hearing and vote has been postponed until Feb. 26. In the next month the mayor and council will be soliciting information from local towns to see how well the combined board is working, and if it is saving their municipalities any money.