LIVINGSTON, NJ — A proposed ordinance to create a new residential zone permitting a mix of home types with inclusionary, affordable components in the area of Trombley and Thurston Drive in Livingston was unanimously voted down by the mayor and council on Monday after dozens of residents from the affected area attended the final hearing to voice their concerns.
Although the comments made by dozens of residents were thoroughly considered in their final decisions, members of the council said that perhaps the most effective argument came from one resident who simply asked all those who would be negatively affected to stand. Ultimately, despite having the option to table the ordinance and send it back to the planning board for review, all members of the council—with the exception of Ed Meinhardt, who recused himself because he lives in the area—said the residents’ comments were enough to persuade them to vote it down altogether.
Mayor Shawn Klein, having recently walked the property, said “the character of this neighborhood is not the same as the other side of McClellan [Avenue],” and that it was “an easy ‘no’” for him.
“As soon I got on the property, this was an easy ‘no’ to vote on because I knew that this was not the right property for this [project],” said Klein. “I didn’t want to throw this back to the planning board—I wanted to vote on this tonight and I vote no.”
Having heard from planning board president Peter Klein earlier in the evening, Councilman Al Anthony said that perhaps the “more prudent thing to do would be to throw it back to the planning board to go over the numerous issues here,” but also voted against the ordinance after hearing from residents.
“It’s just the wrong project in the wrong area at the wrong time,” said Anthony. “Instead of throwing it back to the planning board, I think I’ve heard enough here tonight, so I’m going to vote ‘no.’”
Councilman Mike Silverman, who talked about the many times he’s been to the area over the last 51 years, also voted “no” based on the turnout of residents and their comments even though he did not know how he was going to vote coming into the meeting. Councilman Rudy Fernandez, before also voting against the ordinance, thanked the residents for presenting their arguments in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
“It’s nice when everybody can come out and really help us to learn more about the issues and understand them better,” said Fernandez.
Klein, reiterating these thanks, also wanted residents to know that the council works extremely hard to “be transparent” and work with the affected residents before coming to a final decision on any issue.
“That’s what this meeting is about, that’s why we listen so carefully to everybody,” said Klein. “We’ve had multiple issues that have come up over the course of the last couple years where we had special meetings just to make sure that we hear everyone out, so that we can hear everyone’s point of view…and we try to do a good job in adjudicating these issues.”
According to the ordinance, the Master Plan recommended and the council enacted an ordinance in 2005 to create the BN Neighborhood Business District for mixed-use zoning that included two-family residences. Development approval for such residences with an affordable component has been granted, the ordinance states.
The properties that would have been rezoned by this ordinance are on the opposite side of East McLellan Avenue from the BN District, where two-family housing with an affordable component has already been approved.
Amongst some of the common complaints from residents of that area were about traffic and noise concerns, excess water, density issues and more.
Seth Cohen, a Livingston resident since 2005 and a four-year resident of Thurston Drive, said he became “a part of the fabric of this community” and “understood the strength of this community” 18 months ago, when he was affected by a personal tragedy.
Cohen thanked the council for its service and for “doing what you do for putting our community first,” and, on behalf of his neighbors, asked the council to “put the community first” again by voting “no” to the proposal. He stated the following, followed by an applause from his neighbors:
“Community matters—and if we ignore the dialogue of our community, it is not who we are as a town, it is not who we are as people,” said Cohen. “What you heard tonight were concerns: you heard concerns about traffic, you heard concerns about our schools, you hear concerns about water drainage or tension—These are all legitimate, and taken individually, they matter and they should create enough pause for concern that this should not pass.
“What you did hear from my neighbors and friends is very important, too,” he said. “You did not hear a group of people who are anti-development. We all recognize and understand that a builder has a right to build—it’s why we came to the table so many years ago; it’s why 10 years ago we reached agreement on what could e built, what should be built, what is appropriate to be built on these three lots.
“The proposed is inconsistent with that. It is inconsistent with the value of that dialogue, it is inconsistent with the value of our town.
“Our town is great—not because of our development, our zoning—it’s great because of our people. It’s great because in times of success, we support one another…Our community involvement is worthy of being listened to. It’s worthy of consideration, it’s worthy of making the decision tonight that benefits our community.”
Cohen was one of the last of the many residents to comment on the ordinance at Monday’s council meetings. The final hearing went on for nearly two hours before the mayor and council voted against the ordinance and the hearing was closed.