Friends and neighbors in Wayne:

Our township’s Planning Board will vote on whether to adopt the draft 2020 Master Plan Re-Examination report. This is more than a formality. Our planning and zoning ordinances will lose the force of law if we do not have a report in place by August. Our township could no longer enforce commercial, industrial, and residential zones and the rules for development in each of them.

Municipal Land Use Law requires a Re-Examination report every ten years to ensure that cities and towns are adapting to changes in our populations and business realities. However, the draft report our township’s planner Chris Kok has submitted is missing a critical recommendation that changes since 2010 demands – a recommendation to implement mixed use zoning. This simple recommendation enables our township to be consistent with our master plan if they conduct a review of commercial properties to determine whether any are appropriate to rezone as mixed use – combining commercial with residential development.

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If suitable properties are located, the Planning Board would have hearings to rezone them and to review development guidelines. Then, if I understand the process correctly, the Township Council would have hearings to review ordinances to implement the zones and guidelines.

In the past, long before Mr. Kok became our planner, many residents opposed mixed use development; however, retail has suffered a major decline since that time. Vacant properties are now commonplace in our malls; and the pandemic has now accelerated this decline – which is not unique to Wayne. Forward thinking developers have partnered with communities right here in New Jersey to revitalize them. Wayne needs to attract these developers and enable the ones who already own property here. We cannot afford a further decline in commercial tax revenue.

Understandably, Mr. Kok and the administration are hesitant to introduce mixed use given past resistance; so we need to let them know that we understand that things have changed, and they will have our support to add this recommendation to the Re-Examination Report. Please write or email Mayor Chris Vergano, Planner Chris Kok, the Planning Board, and the Township Council.

This recommendation will send a signal to forward thinking developers that we are open-minded and thinking ahead as we begin the process of reviewing possibilities. The revitalization potential is a significant reason for the recommendation of the possibility of mixed-use zoning.  Most mixed-use projects have residential apartments or condos over commercial businesses – creating built in customers for businesses and giving residents the convenience of shopping, eating, and drinking within walking distance. These projects usually attract the younger demographic that Wayne has been losing for more than a decade; and they help towns fulfill their affordable housing requirement.  They also increase the tax base.

Can we afford to wait for a new Master Plan or a Master Plan Amendment to explore this possibility?  I think not. Remember, any developer proposing a mixed-use project today must go through the costly exercise of creating a development plan and applying for a variance to rezone a property just to get the township to consider the possibility. Moreover, our affordable housing requirement makes us vulnerable to “builders remedy” lawsuits from unscrupulous developers who could not care less about preserving the character of our community. If we add my proposed paragraph or its equivalent to the Re-Examination Report it will send a signal to the affordable housing court that we are doing everything we reasonably can to comply with the requirement and make us a less vulnerable to the blackmail approach of developers who don’t want to partner with our township.

I should mention that some have suggested that Wayne create an affordable housing zone to satisfy the requirement. This approach is reminiscent of the failed 50s housing projects that isolated the economically disadvantaged from the rest of us – a mistake we should not repeat.

Widespread flexibility has been emphasized in this Re-examination Report and I absolutely agree with him.  The possibility of mixed-use zoning enhances the flexibility.

Please voice your support for a mixed-use zoning recommendation in the Re-Examination Report as outlined in the following paragraph.

“Mixed-Use Zoning

Mixed-use zoning (combining commercial space with housing) has enabled other cities and towns not only to revitalize certain areas, but also to fulfill some of their affordable housing needs. Successes demanded careful selection of locations as well as ordinances that detailed development requirements like housing densities consistent with the character of the communities involved. It is recommended that the township examine commercial locations with the goal of rezoning to mixed-use when appropriate and develop an ordinance (or amend an existing one) to define development requirements. While Wayne, to date, has been successful in providing some affordable housing as required by the Fair Housing Act, additional significant requirements remain.”

I hope this has contributed to your own thinking as Wayne residents.  I hope you will act and contact the Mayor, Township Planner, Planning Board and Township Council.