SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Councilman Llewellyn Jones was sworn in at Tuesday night’s Council meeting by past Governor Donald DiFrancesco, just in time to preside over a “doubleheader” of an Agenda Meeting and Business Meeting held back to back.
When the question was raised as to why the meetings were held on the same night, Mayor Kevin Glover outlined the unique challenges presented by the month of November, which included Election Day and Thanksgiving. He did concur, however, that perhaps in the future this could be accommodated by the Agenda Meeting being held on a different night, to avoid an overly long meeting.
While various issues were discussed, such as potential changes to leaf pickup and the Mayor’s Gala on Dec. 6, the compelling topic of the evening was the proposed introduction of an ordinance to amend zoning to “Allow Congregate Care Retirement Communities as a Conditional Use in the R-1 Residence Zone.”
As the Agenda Meeting was not televised, it was decided to hold all discussions for the Business Meeting to ensure those watching at home could hear all sides of the issue.
After a short break, the Business Meeting commenced, and a large number of residents took advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to make their thoughts known on the proposed development on Terrill Road by the Shelter Group, LLC of a “Congregate Care” facility that would include 240 units of assisted and independent living.
With the exception of one resident, all comments and questions were in the negative in regards to the proposed development. Concerns about streetscape, traffic and surrounding property values were expressed as primary concerns, with several residents implying that the project had been kept from wide public scrutiny.
“A lot of the same questions and concerns have been raised in the past five meetings where this has been discussed,” said Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella. “I don’t know how to put out the information any clearer than this. The questions here tonight are raised as if they are new questions, and they have all been asked before.”
Both the mayor and the deputy mayor reiterated how it was never intended that anything be done in secret and previous discussions had all been reported on in the media and listed in the agenda and minutes of previous meetings.
Councilman Bo Vastine was against passing the ordinance for amending R-1 Zoning. “My problem is this – if we change the zoning for this property we have opened up the whole South side of Scotch Plains to developments like this and that would change the look and feel of Scotch Plains,” Vastine said.
“I don’t think this is the appropriate forum for this application. I do not think it is in the best interests to make this change to the zoning,” said Councilman Mickey Marcus. He thanked all the residents who had commented and reaffirmed his opinion that the development in question should be addressed by the Planning Board as a variance issue, not as a change to zoning.
However, before the Council could put it to a vote, the lawyer representing the Shelter Group came up to the podium and informed the Council that his client had decided to withdraw their request for the amendment, and that it was obvious that more communication needed to happen with the local community.
Vastine made a motion to remove the item from the agenda that was then passed unanimously.
Tomorrow: Discussion on the Special Improvement District, discussions on leaf pick up and the Mayor’s Gala