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Council Votes to Eliminate Split Zones

Move clears hurdle for future development on properties zoned both residential and commerical.

The Livingston Town Council drew their largest crowd of the year Monday night as residents turned out to discuss a controversial zoning ordinance.

Residents voiced concerns about the elimination of split zones, or pieces of property that are zoned for both residential and commercial use. The council was looking to remove the split zones to ensure that the properties' zoning reflects their usage. Many residents feared that the new change would damage their home's property value in the future.

Resident Edward Peslak of West Northfield Road said he had received notice on Feb. 18 from the owner's of the building that once housed the Saturn car dealership at the Livingston traffic circle there was to be a change in zoning ordinance and was concerned about the economic impact on his property.

Peslak, whose property is adjacent to the former Saturn building, was surprised at the short notice he received.  "The notice provided my wife and I with 10 days to effectively research, investigate, retain council and refute the proposed zone change," Peslak said. "I believe this short notice is a violation of my civil rights to due process."

Mayor Rudy Fernandez told Peslak while the lot was zoned residential, it has been used for commercial practices for many years. He also pointed out that even with the new zoning ordinance in place, the building's owner would still have to go through either the planning or zoning boards to get approval on making any radical changes to the lot.

"This [the ordinance] isn't allowing them to start building on the property. All this is doing is correcting the split zone that exists so it conforms with the way it has been used for a long time," the mayor said.

David Kamien's property on Herbert Terrace borders the rear of the medical office building located at 349 E. Northfield Road. Kamien reminded the council the trees, which provided a buffer zone between his property and the medical building, have been cut down over the past decade. He said his property is frequently littered with medical garbage.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Santola also said the removal of the split zones would not do anything to directly address the issues raised by Kamien. "By putting this site in a commercial zone, nothing is going to change, but it [the new ordinance] will make changes and improvements on that site all the more easy when the time comes and hopefully spur an investment."

Planning Board chairman Peter Klein believed eliminating the split zones was a step in the right direction for the community. "The idea is to allow the medical offices, professional offices and all of the other businesses that are there now to remain as fully permitted usage," Klein said. "The issue then eliminates the need to go to the zoning board if you have property that is in a split zone."

After listening to residents’ concerns, the council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance. Councilman Michael Rieber was absent from the meeting

During the conference portion of the meeting, the council heard more information about the benefits of the GIS aerial mapping system from Township Engineer Rich Calbi. Calbi said the system offers a number of benefits to the township, including better response to the members of the community.

As an example, Calbi referred to an incident several months ago in which town workers had difficulty finding the location of a damaged valve during a water main break on Hillside Avenue. According to Calbi, had the GIS system been in place, the town would have been able to locate the damaged piece more easily, saving both time and man power.

According to Township Manager Michele Meade, the system is expected to save the township about $50,000 annually as they will be able to eliminate survey and engineering requirements. The council is slated to vote on the system on March 7, as the planes used for the aerial mapping are only available on a limited basis, according to Meade.

The council also heard a report from the Big Box Committee, who after consulting with various experts, determined the township is no less attractive to major businesses than any other nearby town.

The town council's next meeting will be held on March 7 with the regular meeting scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

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