Milltown board OKs changes to boro master plan

Open space, bikeway plan, affordable housing at issue


MILLTOWN — The Planning Board has adopted changes to the town’s master plan, which serves as a guide for future development in town.

The board approved both a master plan reexamination report and an update to the land use plan element at its Aug. 4 meeting.

Planner Marcia Shiffman noted that there have only been minor changes in land use in Milltown since 1988, and vacant land has dropped from 7 percent at that time to approximately 2 percent now. Since the community is fully developed, Shiffman said in her report that teardowns should be replaced with buildings of the same traditional architecture characteristics of the community.

Shiffman recommended that the borough pursue Main Street enhancement programs to improve the streetscape; eliminate single-family homes as a permitted use in mixed-use zones; and encourage increased residential uses on the upper floors of retail and commercial buildings. Also, current zoning designations should be changed to reflect actual land uses.

Shiffman advised that borough officials adopt an Open Space and Recreation Plan to document open space preservation activities, and to prioritize properties and projects for funding. This document, which would be included in the town’s Land Use Plan update, should include provisions for an open space tax, according to the planner.

Municipal officials in all New Jersey towns are required to reexamine their master plan every six years, and the municipality must consider five areas of study in their re-examination report. The five elements are: major problems and objectives in land development at the time of the last reexamination; the extent to which those problems and objectives have been addressed; the extent to which the assumptions, policies and objectives forming the basis for the master plan have changed, with particular focus on density, housing and environmental issues; the specific changes recommended; and the recommendations of the Planning Board pertaining to redevelopment and housing.

Shiffman recommended 13 changes to the master plan and development regulations, which are listed in the re-examination report. These involve updating the borough’s application and escrow fee ordinances; developing a steep slope protection ordinance and stream corridor protection ordinance to better address soil erosion and water quality issues; preparing a circulation element as part of the master plan; updating noise performance standards; and preparing a historic preservation element of the master plan to incorporate research and recommendations of the Historic Preservation Committee into the planning process.

It will be up to the Borough Council to make zoning and other ordinance changes.

Councilman Randy Farkas, who also sits on the Planning Board, said that both the master plan re-examination report and land use plan update are important in that they address the current and future needs of Milltown.

Farkas said he hopes that by addressing the town’s obligation to the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) through the inclusion of a housing element and fair share plan, the borough can bring an end to the ongoing litigation over the Ford Avenue redevelopment project.

“This litigation is sucking the life out of this town, and as such we need to do everything in our power to see that the litigation ends in a favorable manner for the borough of Milltown, while meeting our mandated housing obligation,” Farkas said.

Another key component of the master plan re-examination, he said, is the inclusion of the Middlesex County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

“Middlesex County leads the state in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities, and we have an obligation to the residents of Milltown to provide safe bikeways and walkways,” Farkas said. “We currently have plans to build another section of the bicycle pedestrian walkway through funding provided by the [state] Department of Transportation. As part of this project, we will install a lighted crosswalk across Washington Avenue that will allow residents, especially our senior citizens, a means to cross one of the busiest roads in Milltown safely.”

Farkas thanked Planning Board Chairman Jack Sulzinsky and the other board members for working with Shiffman to develop a concise report that can be used as a guide to address future redevelopment and land use plans.