To the Editor:
The headline is harsh but it is what it seems. At last week's Planning Board meeting by a 5 to 4 vote (3 of the 5 being Mayor Kelly, Administrator Hoffman and Committeewoman Ewald – how convenient) voted to approve rezoning land, currently zoned for two lots on Hillside Avenue and subdividing it into five.
What makes this interesting is that back in November of 2019, (less than 6 months ago), the same Planning Board, less Ms. Ewald, voted down by a unanimous vote the same subdivision request of four lots, including the Mayor and the Administrator joining in the no vote. So, what has changed? Not much evidently. The builder wanted four lots and in order for the builder to get what the builder wants, five of the Planning Board members agreed to give him five, as long as he gives one lot back to the Township so they can potentially use that for a group home. To some it sounds like a good business deal and if originally proposed that way it might be. However, keep in mind that the township does not have a builder nor true cost as to how much it would cost the town to build said group home on this steep lot. Now I am sure Mayor Kelly will point out the developer's commitment to prepare the lot for building but upon further questioning at last week’s Planning Board meeting, the developer’s attorney only committed to limited grading of the lot.
Unfortunately, our Planning Board previously based their November decision for a request of 4 lots on sound land use principles and that 4 lots would intensify development and not be consistent with our Master Plan. It was the right assessment by the Planning Board back in November. Fast-forward and what we see now is a Planning Board that made a land-use decision not based on sound land use principles and our Master Plan, but rather based it off politics and what Mayor Kelly wanted.
A member of the Planning Board did ask the builder if he would consider four lots, three and one for the Township during the meeting. Still generous considering it is only zoned for two, but the builder did not agree and made a comment to the effect that this is what we were asked to do. Later in the Planning Board meeting, former Mayor and long-serving, extremely knowledgeable member Nicole Hagner was forced to recuse herself from discussions on the Affordable Housing River Road development. The same three insiders all voted to remove her. As it goes with this group, she was probably going to ask questions that they didn’t want to hear.
So I ask this Question - Did Mayor Kelly, or any Township Committee member or any member of the current Township administration or hired third party consultant paid by Chatham Township approach the developer of Dixie-Dale, Sterling Properties or their development partner Sun Homes Corp. and present them with the option to get the four lots they desired if they donate a newly created fifth lot to the township? Far-fetched? Maybe but if you listen to the testimony of Peter Flannery, Esq, attorney for Sun Homes Development Corp at the May 21, 2020, Planning Board meeting, he gave the impression the town approached them with this 5-lot concept.
If I am correct with my suspicions, how is this not a conflict of interest that Mayor Kelly sits on the Planning Board and votes for issues related to Affordable Housing? This conflict allows the Mayor to push his agenda through the “process” with a rubber stamp. Committeewoman Ness stated at the last Township Committee meeting that as it relates to Affordable Housing, the Township Planning Board is a separate governing body that runs an independent, unbiased and fair review of all Township planning issues that come before them. Doesn’t seem like a fair process to me? I ask Mayor Kelly to recuse himself from any further Township Planning Board meetings as it relates to Affordable Housing. It’s the right and FAIR thing to do!
Chatham Township Resident of 21 years