SOMERSET, NJ - On Tuesday, the Franklin Township Council passed an ordinance amendment that reverts properties that were rezoned for Canal Walk in the 90s back to their original zones.
Decades after the township created the senior citizen village zone to facilitate the building of Canal Walk, properties that weren’t included in the development remained improperly zoned.
This created a situation where there’s no effective zoning for those areas, township planner Mark Healey told the council during a presentation at the council meeting.
“The proposal is to place those properties that are not in Canal Walk into the appropriate residential zone because right now those properties are actually not conforming,” he said.
These properties include lots on Schoolhouse Road, Weston Road and the large field on the corner of Weston Canal and Schoolhouse roads.
The larger properties will revert to their original designation of A-zone, or agricultural zone, which is the most rural zone in the township that allows for one house per six acres.
On the other hand, the smaller properties will remain in the senior citizen zone but the requirements of the single-family residential R-40 zone will apply to these lots.
Healey explained that under the current zoning, residents not in Canal Walk would have to go to the planning board for a variance to alter their property. The rezoning would make the process easier for residents and the township.
“Now if those homeowners want to put an addition on their house there are actually some actionable requirements that staff can apply to their properties,” said Healey. “As of right now there’s no guide. If one of those residents wanted to put a little addition on the back of their property we’d have to send them to the zoning board for a variance.”
Addressing concerns about how this rezoning will affect the status quo of the area coming from residents in Canal Walk who don’t want further development, Mayor Phillip Kramer told them that this ordinance is an effort to conserve the look and feel of the neighborhood.
“Everything up there, what we’re trying to do is keep it the way it is,” he said.
The ordinance also rezones a lot on the corner of Weston Road and Mettlers Road that the county bought for open space purposes from the research-office-laboratory zone to the agriculture zone. Township policy recommends all open space properties take on the agriculture zone designation.
Deputy Mayor James Vassanella raised concerns about another part of the ordinance that would rezone an area at the end of Gates Road and Ellison Road.
The ordinance sought to change the zoning designation of the area from R-20 to R-40, which govern half-acre lots and one-acre lots respectively.
“What I’m concerned with is that when you have a zoning change, if you end up making people’s properties, and it’ll only be a few but there will still be a few, nonconforming, it kind of is the opposite of what we’re doing with the other properties,” Vassanella said.
Because of the irregular size and shape of the lots, some would not conform to the R-40 zone, which could have a negative impact on property value and affect plans residents had for their property.
“It’s not that the general planning principals are wrong,” Vassanella said. “We need to take a deeper look and make sure we’re being fair and handling it in a way that doesn’t disrupt, in some cases, generations of people living there.”
The council passed a motion to take out that section of the ordinance after Vassanella suggested its removal. Councilman Theodore Chase was the only councilmember to vote against the motion.
The final ordinance passed without the section rezoning the lots at the end of Gates and Ellison roads.
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