A potential ordinance that would have revoked a land use measure entitled the Redevelopment R-SEED (Special Economic Development District) in Bridgewater Township never took root.
The measure, related to the much-discussed Center of Excellence development on Route 202/206, was voted down, 3-2, at the township council’s April 11 agenda session.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso, who introduced the ordinance, said the SEED had been approved three years prior by the council, with certain criteria to go before the township’s planning board with the Center application. He said the ordinance was about additional criteria, and going before the planning board with a complete application, as the governing body was not allowed to alter municipal zoning.
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He added that the state Supreme Court, however, had ruled that changes could possibly be made with an incomplete application, particularly since a traffic circulation plan for the Center had supposedly not yet been submitted. Dozens of residents have come forward in recent months to publicly complain about how increased Center traffic would negatively impact their quality of life.
Pedroso, who in the past has considered the Center project to be a nightmarish one, said that his take is to revoke the SEED and put an end to the case altogether by law. He said that property owners are allowed to develop their own property, but that the governing body had allowed the potential for overdevelopment to occur with zoning changes.
“It’s a little piece of Hoboken, cut out and put into Bridgewater,” Pedroso said. “It doesn’t fit.”
He also said that introducing the ordinance gives the council an opportunity “to do the right thing.”
The ordinance introduction was seconded by council president Matthew Moench, who added that if it was not introduced that evening, then an opportunity might be missed, as it takes two readings for an ordinance to be officially ratified.
Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose questioned whether the developer had been asked to sit down with the township, and Pedroso replied that a section of the measure had been redacted. He also said that the developer could have subsequently made a “midnight filing” against the ordinance, and he reiterated that the ordinance was for the public good.
Council vice president Howard Norgalis said he had gotten calls to support the ordinance, which he said he would do if it was legal. He also said he had received a redacted copy the day of the council agenda session, and that he had also spoken to township planner Scarlett Doyle that same day.
Norgalis said he thinks the town should go back to the planner and the planning board attorney.
“As much as I would love to can this project,” Norgalis said, “can we legitimately approve (this ordinance)?”
Savo said that, in his opinion, the planning board and the council both stood to lose jurisdiction, as he said had happened in a case in Franklin Township where the developer filed an appeal against such a measure. He added that the Center of Excellence application had been deemed complete two years ago by an administrative officer, and that it was not the council’s responsibility if the application was complete or not.
Norgalis said he would like to table the ordinance, as he had only gotten the redacted copy that night. Pedroso replied that only one part of one sentence had been redacted, about which particular document was missing, but everything else was the same.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla reminded the township about how it had been sued on another similar matter in the past regarding the Al Falah center.
“We’re potentially opening the door for a lawsuit that could knock our socks off,” said Kurdyla, who added he would vote when he knew it was legally right to do so, and he also seconded tabling the ordinance.
Pedroso said he understood that Savo and the council had had no time to fully review the ordinance, but he said it was a special circumstance, and that the township couldn’t afford to give the applicant a heads-up on the matter. He also asked if the council was prepared to jeopardize the township, if the applicant filed an appeal in the immediate future.
Pedroso said he had obtained the opinion of the planning board’s attorney, Tom Collins, and the councilman suggested that his colleagues join him in at least introducing the ordinance. He also said he would vote against it if the law was not on their side, while mentioning the Center’s potential impact on Bridgewater residents’ quality of life.
Kurdyla said the measure had to go through a legal review, such as is normally obtained from the township attorney, and added that a topic of such magnitude required better discussion.
The final vote was 3-2 for tabling the measure. Moench voted for it, as did Pedroso, who called the vote a “disservice.” Moench said he had concerns with the planning board attorney supposedly waiving requirements regarding the Center application.
“(We) specifically outlined the things we wanted,” said Moench of the application.
The council president added he wanted more details, and also said that if the application was incomplete, it was not supposed to be heard.
“It’s not a typical project,” said Moench of the Center. “I don’t think it should have been granted a waiver, if it (was).”