Decision due from zoners on JR Landscaping case

Staff Writer

JACKSON — A final decision from the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment regarding a dispute between the township and JR Custom Landscaping will not be made until at least April 15.

During a series of hearings stretching back to mid-2014, zoning board members have been trying to determine what activities are permitted at the company’s properties at 141 East Veterans Highway and 34 Bennetts Mills Road. Municipal officials brought the issue to the zoning board.

At a March 18 meeting, zoning board members said they needed more time to review the testimony and evidence that has been presented by both sides.

Residents who live near the properties have claimed the company has not adhered to certain restrictions that were placed on it by the zoning board and a Superior Court order in 2011.

Residents have alleged that some of the company’s operations, including the screening of topsoil and compost at its two sites, violate the restrictions and negatively impact their quality of life.

At the most recent hearing, attorneys representing both parties presented their final summation.

“In a lot of areas of the law, the way it works is that you can do what you want unless the government tells you that you cannot. I think that attitude has sort of permeated … this property,” Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said.

Cipriani continued by stating that the landscaping business at the Bennetts Mills Road property hinges solely on “what the board says can happen.”

“Because [the Bennetts Mills Road property] is a nonconforming use, it only operates on the variances rendered by this board,” Cipriani said.

Attorney Timothy DeHaut, representing JR Landscaping, asserted that the previously approved resolutions established a number of irreversible rights for the company that were being wrongfully attacked by the zoning board, the township and residents.

“The township suggested there should be a reduction of storage or hours of operation — that is entirely, entirely inappropriate. We have vested rights in this property, and the board does not have the power to take those rights away,” DeHaut said.

DeHaut suggested the board was not allowed to provide an “open-ended interpretation” regarding the Bennetts Mills Road property, given its past decisions on the matter.

“Specifically to this property, wholesale rights have been vested in the plain language of the resolution,” DeHaut said. “The operation that is occurring at this site must be viewed in light of those vested rights.”

While officials agreed certain variances had been granted by the board, zoning board engineer Evan Hill said some of the conditions that allowed for those variances were never met.

In one example, Hill said a 2009 application and approval for a site plan waiver for a proposed farmer’s market was contingent on a response from the Ocean County Planning Department that it did not require a site plan, and if it did, the company would have to go back before the zoning board with a site plan.

“Ocean County submitted a letter indicating they wanted a formal application submitted with 17 conditions that needed to be addressed … and to this date that has not been done,” Hill said. “So in our opinion, we have an application from 2009 that technically remains outstanding.”

Cipriani said the fact that some of the zoning board’s conditions had never been met means that DeHaut’s claim of “vested rights” at the site was not relevant.

“I agree there are some vested rights, but in a case where every resolution relies on prior resolutions … some of those approvals are not perfected,” Cipriani said. “So, unperfected approvals do not equal vested rights.”

The board’s attorney, Sean Gertner, said the panel’s members should be ready to make a decision on the matter on April 15. The board’s decision will be forwarded to the state Superior Court for review.