Property owners irked over proposed changes

New group, HOOF, fears loss of equity if zoning changes


Staff Writer

Some Howell property owners say they’ll sue the township to reverse zoning changes they claim will decrease their property equity.

John Pearson, who owns 15 acres that could be changed from ARE-2 to ARE-6 zoning under a pending proposal, has organized Home Owners Organized for Fairness (HOOF). According to Pearson, HOOF is comprised of about 20 property owners who are facing the prospect of zoning changes that they claim are unfairly targeting them.

If the zoning changes from ARE-2 or ARE-3 to ARE-6 are eventually adopted by the Township Council, the number of homes that could be built on a property owner’s land would be reduced. The property owners say the prospect of fewer homes reduces the value of their land. Under ARE-2 and ARE-3 zoning, one home may be built on a 2-acre or 3-acre lot, respectively. In an ARE-6 zone, one home requires 6 acres.

Speaking with the Tri-Town News after addressing the council on Dec. 7, Pearson said the members of HOOF will litigate any zoning change adopted by the governing body that affects their property. He said that in the interest of preserving the rural character of the township as well as curbing residential development, the affected property owners are being asked to take a hard financial hit on land equity that is the foundation for their prospective retirements.

“For a lot of people their land is their retirement. You can’t continue to zone away people’s equity in their property,” Pearson said.

He said municipal officials should be looking to accomplish their goals under the parameters of the state’s Smart Growth initiative. Pearson said the so-called Smart Growth could help realize the goals of the governing body in regard to growth and the character of that growth.

At the public meeting that followed Pearson’s remarks to the council, Mayor Timothy J. Konopka responded. Konopka said the proposed changes were the result of a great deal of study. He said the proposal has the approval of township planner Michael Vena and Planning Board planner Richard Kniesler.

“We have the bona fide blessings of both. Both are in sync with the master plan recommendations,” said Konopka, who will leave office on Dec. 31 after serving eight years.

Konopka observed that Smart Growth initiatives can be realized even with the zoning changes adopted.

According to Konopka, when hearing applications the Planning Board has the authority to implement Smart Growth. He said there was a lot of flexibility built into the system which would allow for cluster zoning if the board members believed an application was right for it.

With cluster zoning, a parcel is developed with the housing concentrated in one area and the remaining land left undisturbed.

Speaking at the meeting, Vena said the proposed zoning change could be used to promote Smart Growth.

Pearson asked municipal officials to examine what is known as a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Under a TDR program, a community may regulate site densities by allowing higher densities on some parcels in exchange for lower densities on other parcels. The use of a TDR would require the establishment of sending and receiving areas.

Councilman Joseph DiBella, who is Howell’s mayor-elect, said “it wouldn’t be a tremendous disadvantage for us to look at the [TDR] issue.”