CLARK, NJ – Just days before Clark’s Master Plan was due to go before a judge for final approval, township officials received notice the court appearance would be postponed until at least September.
Clark has been working with the superior courts since July 2015 to come up with a master plan that would meet the court’s expectation for affordable housing. The finalized plan was expected to be approved by the courts in June.
Instead late on the evening of June 24, John Laezza, Clark’s Business Administrator said he received an email notification of postponement of the June 29 court date from Elizabeth McKenzie, a master of the court.
Laezza said the email from McKenzie, explained she had not had time to properly review the plan, due to vacations and a backlog of work. In her email, McKenzie indicated she would require some edits to the town’s master plan before going in front of the judge for final approval.
According to Laezza, the New Jersey courts appointed masters to towns as they worked on their master plans. The court master’s job is to oversee master plans as they are developed by municipalities and provide guidance so the plans are ready for court approval.
Laezza explained, throughout the process of developing the plan, township officials were sending monthly updates to McKenzie as required. During this time, the township paid fees in excess of $140K for these services. At no time were changes requested on the master plan said Laezza.
Frustration was the tone that settled in as Laezza spoke about the delays. “During the last six months we sent monthly updates on what we were doing with the master plan and we heard nothing from them, other than the bill,” said Laezza.
Mayor Bonaccorso explained that McKenzie was very reassuring that the town had done everything they were required to do and that it was her schedule causing the delays. According to Bonaccorso, McKenzie said she would speak to the judge and explain the situation to make things right on Clark’s behalf.
Bonaccorso reassured residents that the changes McKenzie requested are minimal and do not change the overall number of units, design of the master plan or Clark's status with the courts. “The number (of housing units in the master plan) is staying the same, it’s a lot of verbiage in our ordinances, and she said our fee schedule is outdated,” said Bonaccorso.
“I am thoroughly disgusted like John (Laezza), that our affordable housing plan that was suppose to get passed on the 29 of June is now back on our laps,” said Bonaccorso.
Bonaccorso used this situation as an opportunity to reiterate his viewpoints from a council meeting earlier in the month where he called on state legislators to do their job.
“This is what happens when legislators refuse to do their jobs, they dump it into the courts, they dump it into special masters and now whatever money we have to spend on this (edits to master plan) the taxpayers of Clark have to eat it,” said Bonaccorso.
The requested updates to the master plan documentation are being developed at this time and will need to go through public hearings and be voted on again before the plan is put to a judge for final approval.
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