LIVINGSTON, NJ - A routine proposal by the Livingston Township Council to amend a zoning ordinance to correct split zones – areas with commercial properties included among residential areas – drew several township residents concerned that such a change could have a detrimental effect on their properties and neighborhoods.
Mayor Rudy Fernandez, Township Manager Michele E. Meade, and four of the township council’s five members – Councilman Michael Reiber was absent – spent much of Monday evening’s session seeking to allay such concerns. They assured residents in the affected areas that the proposed amendment would only recognize the presence of commercial structures already in existence and not expand them any further. Mayor Fernandez added that the amendment would streamline the process for owners of these commercial properties to improve them and have a greater sense of clarity as to what the zoning laws would permit.
The areas affected are the vacant Saturn dealership on Livingston Circle, the medical building at 315 East Northfield Road, and three adjacent blocks along West Mount Pleasant Avenue west of the circle, behind which Tower Road runs.
The Wu family of Tower Road, acting on behalf of the street’s residents, expressed concern that rezoning to recognize existing businesses such as the Route 10 Farmer’s Market would lead to an expansion of businesses in the area and affect Tower Road property values.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Santola insisted that this was not the case, and that anyone wanting to ask for zoning changes would have to apply for them and that affected residents would receive notices to allow a public debate on the matter. The council, added Councilman Gary Schneiderman, cannot arbitrarily rezone a property on its own.
None of this appeased Edward Peslak, whose West Northfield Road home is next to the wooded lot behind the former Saturn of Livingston. He feared that rezoning the split-zoned auto showroom building and wooded lot as one commercial zone would allow a developer to design a project without regard to traffic issues or environmental impacts. Mike Lonzafama of the engineering firm Casey Keller in Millburn, which is redesigning the property for its owners, said that his plan was to preserve the wooded area and plant new trees and remove part of the parking lot around the former Saturn dealership in favor of grass. Lonzafama’s plans were cited as an example of how the rezoning of the area would allow improvements to go forward more easily, with the emphasis that there would be no fundamental change to cause Peslak alarm.
Mayor Fernandez repeated articulated council’s intentions throughout the session.
“We’re trying to conform zoning to where our planning board thinks it makes sense,” he said. “We’re changing the zoning to conform to what’s already there. We’re not trying got bring in new commercial use.”
The ordinance passed unanimously.
In the conference meeting that preceded the regular council meeting, Township Engineer Rich Galdi presented his report on the township’s proposed Geographic Information System (GIS). The GIS would establish a database of the township’s infrastructure – water mains, manholes, sidewalks – that would provide detailed information of Livingston’s infrastructural components and improve the efficiency of scheduled maintenance.
Citing an instance where a water main break on Hillside Avenue took two days to locate, Galdi said that such a database would make infrastructure upkeep much easier. “We want to have the ability to plan long-range,” he said, saying that the township’s approach “can no longer be a fix-as-you-go system.”
The plan is to be taken up by the Township Council on March 7.