Council ponders steep slopes law

The ordinance would require a variance to build on properties with steep slopes.

By: Linda Seida
   STOCKTON — The Borough Council introduced an ordinance Monday that would require a variance in order to build on properties with steep slopes, but some officials said they’d like to see more clarity in the wording before it becomes law.
   The ordinance is intended to limit soil erosion, excessive stormwater runoff, the destruction of trees and vegetation and pollution of surface water. The ordinance also would maintain the natural topography, ridgelines and drainage patterns.
   Board Chairman Richard Schuck has said the borough is almost built up, and it is likely the ordinance would affect only new construction or some residents who want to modify homes on sloped streets, such as Church and Broad streets.
   The proposed ordinance will be on the agenda Feb. 27 for a second reading at which time council members could vote either to approve the ordinance as it is written or to amend it.
   If approved, the ordinance would become part of the town’s Master Plan, which is being updated this year.
   Mayor Gregg Rackin reminded council members they have almost a month in which to address their concerns by consulting the borough’s Planning Board and Environmental Commission.
   The wording of some portions of the ordinance need clarity, some officials said. For example, Councilwoman Constance Bassett questioned a paragraph that prohibits the removal of tress with diameters that are 10 inches or more "at breast height."
   Councilman Stephen Giocondo was concerned an exemption to the ordinance allows only for a gross area disturbance of less than 1,000 square feet to build a single-family house that is not part of a development.
   Both the board and the commission had input in crafting the proposed ordinance. Council members also may consult county planners with their concerns, Mayor Rackin said.
   The board and the commission based the proposed ordinance on one contained in the Hunterdon County Environmental Toolbox of model ordinances, created in 2002 by Hunterdon County Freeholder Marcia Karrow. Municipalities may use the sample ordinances as templates, tweaking them to adjust them to their own individual needs.
   The borough’s Planning Board spent almost a year reviewing the ordinance before approving it in November and passing it on to the council, Mayor Rackin said.
   "This will be our first ordinance of many that we’ll be bringing to you that will help protect our environment and the quality of life in Stockton," said Council President Michael Hagerty, who is the council’s liaison to the board.
   The ordinance would prohibit building on a slope greater than 20 percent. Any proposal to disturb a slope greater than 20 percent would require a variance.
   Disturbance of a slope greater than 15 percent must not interfere with scenic vistas and must preserve significant topographical features, including ridgelines.
   The proposed ordinance also addresses the removal of trees on sloped land. No trees with a diameter of 10 inches or more "at breast height" shall be removed from land with a slope greater than 15 percent.
   Penalties would range from $100 to $1,000 per offense and/or imprisonment for 30 days and/or a 30-day period of community service. Penalties would be at the discretion of a municipal court judge.