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The Development Application Process

 

Wyckoff Creates
a Guide for Residents

Robert Shannon
By Robert Shannon, Jr.
Township Administrator
Wyckoff Township

During the last 20 years, many New Jersey municipalities have undergone substantial growth and noticeable change; some neighborhoods have become unrecognizable from their earlier incarnations. With developable property at an ever increasing premium, homeowners are looking to maximize use of their properties and tenants are looking to use every square foot of commercial property. The agendas of Planning Boards and Zoning Boards of Adjustment are full of cases reflecting this growth and change.

With change, development, re-development and growth; come concerns and questions on the part of residents and neighbors. Citizens worry about the impact a land use approval will have on their adjacent or nearby property. They also worry that increased traffic and other changes resulting from each new board decision will negatively impact their neighborhoods.

roomful of Residents attend Board meeting
When residents attend Planning and Zoning Board meetings, they sometimes comment that the process and procedures seem to favor the applicants.

When residents attend Planning and Zoning Board meetings, they sometimes comment that the process and procedures seem to favor the applicants. For example, residents often object to waiting until the entire application is presented and vetted before they can make comments about how they believe the project will impact their home and neighborhood. When the application process spans several meetings over months or even years, those perceptions can be exacerbated.

The board and the municipal staff advise residents that each application is reviewed in accordance with procedures detailed in the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law and all applications are judged on their individual merits. In many ways, the procedures are similar to court room procedures. The chairperson conducts the meeting as a judge might and the board is comparable to a jury, which votes to make a final decision. Approvals or denials of applications may be legally challenged—for instance, in New Jersey Superior Court. For this reason the process defined in the Municipal Land Use Law must be followed closely.

To help the public understand and participate in the process, the Township of Wyckoff has developed a straight-forward, one page informational bulletin. It summarizes the application process and encourages and explains how citizens can participate. We’ve found that having the information in this form benefits both the review process and residents. Whenever we can clarify government processes and encourage participation, we have achieved a reasonable and responsible objective. A bulletin, such as the one we’ve developed in Wyckoff, can be posted on the municipal website, posted on the Town Hall bulletin board, and be made available to visitors at Board meetings. (See the complete bulletin on the right).

The bulletin addresses the availability of meeting agendas, the application process, public questions and comments, the application completeness review, and where to access meeting minutes. Posting this resident guide also furthers our transparency efforts. Before it was distributed, the bulletin was provided to local members of the media who regularly report on municipal matters and their input was helpful.

The bulletin has been valuable in many ways. Primarily, the bulletin outlines, in summary fashion, the procedures which the NJ Municipal Land Use Law requires Zoning Boards and Planning Boards to follow. It also provides information and contact points for residents who wish to learn more and even enroll in the same required training program that appointed Board members complete.

As public information, the bulletin is specifically designed to improve resident awareness and understanding, thereby enhancing transparency efforts relating to municipal operations. However, and possibly most importantly, it details in an easy-to-read format the procedures to follow for a resident’s input to have maximum impact on the Board’s deliberation.

The following is the text of the bulletin developed and used in Wyckoff Township. Feel free to adapt it to your needs.

Resident Information for Attending/Participating in a
Zoning Board of Adjustment Meeting

Welcome to the work session and public hearing of the Wyckoff Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Board is glad you are here and we can all benefit from your attendance and input. This bulletin outlines, in summary fashion, the procedures which New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) requires the Zoning Board of Adjustment to follow. Only Zoning Boards of Adjustment (not elected governing bodies such as a Township Committee) are charged by law with reviewing and determining all types of variances including use variances known as “d” variances. You may obtain a copy of the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, NJSA, 40:55D-1 et seq. and contact the New Jersey Planning Officials at www.NJPO.org or 908-412-9592 for further information. Approvals or denials of applications may be legally challenged (for instance, in New Jersey Superior Court). Therefore, it is very important that the process laid out in the MLUL be closely followed.

Agendas An agenda is available before all meetings. It is posted in Town Hall outside the Planning Board Office, Room 110, at least 48 hours before the meeting and can also be found on Wyckoff on the Web (www.wyckoff-nj.com—click on Departments, Zoning Board of Adjustment, then Current Agenda).

Public Question and Comment Each application is reviewed in accordance with the New Jersey MLUL procedures. The Zoning Board is a quasi-judicial body, and its procedures are similar to those used in a courtroom. The chairperson conducts the meeting as a judge might and the Board is comparable to a jury that votes to make a final decision. All members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment are resident volunteers. They are appointed by the Township Committee and serve in the public interest without compensation. Board members are required to complete a state-mandated training course, which is also available to the public. Each year, Board members file financial disclosure statements required by the New Jersey Ethics Law with the Municipal Clerk.

The public may comment on applications before the board. The timing of such comment depends on the complexity of the application. In general, less complex applications have one public comment period. For example, an application in which a resident seeks permission to encroach into the side yard setback of a residential lot to allow for an expanded family room, might have one public comment period. More complex applications have public question periods after each expert witness presents testimony, and a general public comment period after the completion of the presentation of the application. When asking a question regarding a specific witness’s testimony, the public may ask a question only about that expert’s testimony. The public may comment on any aspect of the application during the public comment period at the close of the application.

Completeness Review Each application will first be reviewed at a public work session that begins at 7:30 p.m. in the second floor courtroom in Town Hall. The work session allows the Board to review the application for compliance with the requirements of a complete application. Public comment is not permitted at work sessions.

The public business meeting follows at 8:00 p.m. The chairperson will open the public question and comment section for each application.

Application Procedure When an application is announced by the chairperson, the applicant or his/her attorney comes forward. If the applicant is to provide testimony, he/she introduces him/herself, affirms that his/her testimony will be truthful (while being sworn under oath by the Zoning Board Attorney) and then explains the nature of the application. If the applicant is represented by an attorney, the attorney presents the application and, where applicable, the order of the applicant’s expert witnesses. If there are expert witnesses, they will be sworn in before presenting their testimony.
Following the testimony of each witness, the Board will ask questions and seek clarifications needed for an informed review of the application. The chairperson will then ask if there are any questions from the public regarding the testimony.
If you have a question, raise your hand. When the chairperson calls on you, please walk to the microphone. You will then be sworn under oath by the Board Attorney. Please speak clearly into the microphone. All witnesses must state their names and addresses and spell their names before asking a question or making appropriate comments. The public is limited to five minutes per person to ensure adequate time for all speakers for all applications.

Verbal statements from the public should be supportable and not hearsay.
The applicant has the right to cross-examine any members of the public who speak. Written statements or letters from individuals who are not present, petitions or speaking on anyone else’s behalf are not allowable according to New Jersey MLUL. Written statements from the public in favor of or opposing the application cannot be accepted as the Board cannot cross-examine written statements; however, a member of the public may provide the secretary with a written copy of his/her remarks after speaking.

Only the chairperson may decide who speaks at a given time. Comments called out from the audience will not be considered part of the record.

The chairperson has the right to close the public portion of a hearing if he/she feels that the audience is unruly or is making comments that are not relevant to the application. The chairperson also has the right to have any member of the audience removed from the hearing room for unruly behavior.

The meeting is recorded using an audio system. However, the applicant may also choose to hire a court reporting service at his or her personal expense. Minutes will be prepared and summarized by the Board’s secretary.

Hearings that are not completed at one meeting may be further considered at future meetings. The chairperson will verbally announce that an application is carried to the next meeting. To confirm a continuation or rescheduling, call the Board office at 201-891-7000, extension 117, weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

When you follow the procedures discussed above, your input will have maximum impact on the Board’s deliberations. Please note that all applications are judged on their individual merits. The Board cannot predetermine the outcome of an application.
Meeting Minutes Meeting minutes are posted on www.wyckoff-nj.com after the Board approves them, usually at the following month’s meeting. The minutes are typically posted the day following their approval.

The information and guidelines provided in this bulletin are subject to any changes in the municipal land use law and are subject to any procedures or deviations established by the land use boards to implement the municipal land use law in effect at the time.

(These guidelines are for the purpose of assisting interested parties in understanding and participating in the municipal land use process. Each application is unique and deviations from this outline may necessarily occur. Such deviations should not be considered a basis for an argument in any appeals of a decision rendered by the Board.)

Thank you for participating in the municipal land use process.

 

 


Bob Shannon has served as the Wyckoff Township Administrator since 1984. He writes and lectures on a variety of municipal issues, including ethics, internal controls, purchasing and the governing process.

Originally published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 5, May 2012

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