CEDAR GROVE, NJ – The Town Council unanimously voted to reverse the Zoning Board’s approval of Sports Domain Academy’s (SDA) proposed soccer dome at 20 Sand Park Road at the public hearing Monday.
Councilman Peter Tanella made the motion to reverse the approval, noting it was a difficult decision. “On one hand I understand as a father of three young girls who are active in the soccer club the benefit of the facilities and as a business attorney I am a strong advocate of businesses of all types and sizes,” Tanella said. “On the other hand as a lifelong resident of Cedar Grove, I completely understand the concerns that the residents have raised. In my opinion this is a classic example of the old adage not in my back yard. And I think it’s our job tonight to determine if such a position has merit.”
SDA has operated facilities in Montclair and Clifton and was looking to construct a domed turf field on the property behind Noble Gift Packaging in Cedar Grove’s industrial park. SDA sought relief from the parking space requirements, a secondary use variance which will allow the property to be used for two purposes and a third variance related to the parking area. Through five public hearings, SDA presented its case and the Zoning Board approved the application in February.
Residents of Anderson Parkway and the surrounding neighborhood voiced concerns throughout the application process about the hours of operation, lights shining into homes, security and noise disturbance from games and whistles. They hired an attorney to appeal the Zoning Board’s decision.
Greg Mascera, a land use attorney representing the residents, pointed out flaws in the application as he testified before the council Monday night. Mascera explained that SDA was seeking to allow two uses on one piece of property, which is specifically prohibited in Cedar Grove. He noted that In order for this type of variance to be granted, it must have a public benefit – a benefit that is enjoyed by more than just the property owner. SDA must also address site suitability and testify as to how the property is well suited for a soccer dome facility and a manufacturing facility and again it must be a benefit to the people in the area, not just the applicant.
“There is no testimony that talked about site suitability in that context,” Mascera said. “There is an existing industrial building and then a soccer dome. Does it fit on the property? Of course it fits, but is it particularly suited for that purpose?”
Mascera further stated, that the soccer dome structure does not meet the aesthetics criteria of the zoning ordinance which requires a brick structure. “They can’t build a brick building which is what is required by the aesthetics rules. If we look at what they are trying to do, they are trying to make orange match green. The concept put before the zoning board is not a valid concept under the law.”
Mascera also pointed out that throughout the countless hours of testimony, SDA never presented any details of the master plan to the Zoning Board. In addition, the application was changed at the last minute, but no testimony on the revised plan was given before the board. For instance, in the original plan no air conditioning units were included because the dome was to be removed in the summer months. However, the plan was amended so that the dome would remain in place year round, which makes air conditioning a necessity, but no testimony was ever give on where those units would be placed.
“This body (the town council) has the zoning power. If this body wanted to allow two principal uses on a one piece of property this body could draft an ordinance and could modify the existing ordinance. This body has not done that and the Zoning Board should not govern by variance,” Mascera noted. “It is up to this body to control the land use ordinances in the township of Cedar Grove. It’s not their (the zoning board’s) place to usurp this governing body’s power. They are not supposed to legislate by variance, they do not have that authority and that’s exactly what they tried to do.”
SDA attorney Michael Sullivan also testified before the Town Council, reiterating that the Zoning Board had made its based on hours of testimony and had justly decided to grant the variance to SDA.
Tanella said he felt the relief sought by Sports Domain Academy shouldn’t have been granted because it causes a substantial detriment to the public good and does not promote the appropriate use of the land as governed by the township’s zoning laws.
“I do not believe that having two principal uses on one property was ever anticipated by the governing body,” Tanella noted. “I believe that if we were to grant the requested relief tonight that we will be going down a very slippery slope as a Township and setting a dangerous precedent. It is my hope that the applicant will continue to pursue a home in Cedar Grove for his business, however I hope it is in an area that does not create a substantial detriment to the public good or substantially impair our zoning ordinances.”
Mayor Joseph Chiusolo echoed Tanella’s opinion. “I think this is a difficult decision. We have a quality of life issue for the residents that live in that area,” he noted. “I also am an advocate of small business being a small business owner and recognize the importance of that, but we can’t have a business in a residential area that at some point could become a nuisance and affect the quality of life for the residents.”
Cheryl Brown also reported on this story.