ALLENTOWN: Attorney explains borough planning process

Inquires from public mostly surround the Old Mill

by James McEvoy, Managing Editor
ALLENTOWN – Residents and business owners received a crash course on zoning and planning Tuesday night.
   In light of ongoing confusion and controversy pertaining to the Old Mill and land use applications, Daniel Green, attorney of the borough’s unified planning and zoning board was asked to attend the June 25 Borough Council meeting.
   Mr. Green discussed the role of the board, when and how changes to a structure constitute a board review, the responsibilities of an applicant – including escrow to pay board professionals and notice requirements – and the state statues that dictate how such a board may operate.
   In addition to his presentation, Mr. Green also fielded questions from members of the public, most of which referred back to the mill issue, which last appeared before the unified board upon receiving preliminary site plan approval in 2004.
   The application was for a café to be built in the basement of the mill. The board conditionally permitted the use. The conditions included the board requesting additional information, including delineation of Americans with Disabilities Act parking.
   ”It’s a nine-year-old application that never really followed through,” Mr. Green said. “Typically, what would happen is that you have to follow through the application within two years. If it’s not followed through the application can be deemed to be basically not there anymore.
   ”Right now,” he added. “There’s no application pending before the board.”
   In response to other residents’ queries Mr. Green said it was his understanding that the applicant’s current designs for the property constitute a change from previous plans, which would likely necessitate board review.
   He did note, however, some work needed to address repairs resulting from a natural disaster, i.e. Tropical Storm Irene or Hurricane Sandy, could be done without board purview so long as the changes don’t constitute a different use or scope.
   During the second public comment portion, Corky Danch who co-owns the mill with his wife, Kris, did not comment specifically on the issues surrounding the property, but lamented that residents often only hear feedback from Mayor Stuart Fierstein at meetings.
   In response, Council President Michael Schumacher discussed his responsibility in serving on the governing body and his thoughts on the Old Mill issue.”I have to be open-minded and fair about every person who comes in,” Council President Schumacher said. “I’m trying to take all this in. I’m going to try to promote whatever I can to see things move forward, but I cannot grant an exception for one person contrary to state law or contrary to local ordinance that I don’t give to everybody else.
   ”You can’t do that in a town this size or a town the size of Newark,” he added. “There’s a process. We have to abide by it. I wish that we could wave a wand and erase a hurricane or erase a county bridge project.”
   Previously, Mr. Danch has said he wished borough officials would be more supportive.
   In addition, he has said he was unable to complete the 2004 application process due to Monmouth County’s seizure of the property through eminent domain to complete a bridge and dam project, with the county only handing the mill back to owners early last year.