HILLSBOROUGH: Vigilant residents succeed

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
   Don’t tell Hillsborough residents they can’t fight city hall.
   Twice this week, residents in different areas of town, facing different questions, were successful in deterring projects they didn’t like.
   On Route 206 in the southern part of the township, neighbors of a potential Sonic fast-food restaurant could pump their fists after hearing the applicant had withdrawn the application. It apparently became too expensive to manage drainage on a small lot constrained by protected wetlands.
   In rural Neshanic, neighbors of a decrepit but historic property saw the Historic Preservation Commission reject the application of landscaper John Lazorchak, who wanted to tear down the building in preparation for a future application to build what he promised would be a fitting professional office building.
   The issue has legs, going back to approval of Mr. Lazorchak’s plan for an office building in 2008. But the Planning Board acted with the understanding the Amwell Road property lay outside the federal and state historic districts. In court, the judge sided with the neighbors, who had sued to stop the proposal.
   The possibility of a Sonic on the site of an ice cream and dairy store remembered fondly by many long-time residents has been around since the fall. Everyone was geared up for the final showdown last Thursday. Many residents drove to the municipal building in the steady rain, only to be greeted with a notice on yellow paper that applicant Thomas Mascia had decided that day to withdraw.
   Let’s be clear: People shouldn’t expect to see any project defeated just because they don’t like it. We hold property rights dear in this country, and municipalities have scrupulously crafted zones and regulations affecting how to develop property. Most of the time a project may need tweaking, but meets general specifications and cannot be denied.
   Occasionally, though, vigilant citizens who are educated and determined can influence what is allowed to happen in their neighborhoods. It may take time, patience, homework and even legal means, but it can be done.
   Indeed, it can be argued people must defend themselves and their property when they feel threatened. Don’t expect anyone else to do it.