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Monday, May 20, 2024

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Compass Points – 1/25/2006

By Al Campbell

Such a scenario played out in Middle Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting Jan. 12 when there was an application to allow a recycling center on Indian Trail Road.

Confronted by several neighbors and property owners who opposed the project, board Chairman James McLaughlin reminded one of the residents that, often, the board must weigh rights of residents against rights of property owners who may want to engage in an activity residents don’t particularly like or want.

The board, in such cases, is caught between that figurative “rock and a hard place.”

Residents believe if they object, the board will join their cause, and reject a proposal. It isn’t like that, even if the board sympathizes with residents, which members often do.

Most residents attend meetings, zoning or planning boards because they received a certified letter of a certain action. That means they live within 200 feet of a property that an applicant wants to change somehow.

Since most have little, if any, knowledge of the system, they often believe if they simply say they don’t want more noise or traffic, excess lighting or business near them, the board will automatically deny the application.

That’s not the case. If a board did that, immediate litigation would follow. Taxpayers would be footing the bills for extended court cases which, I believe, would often be decided against a municipality, and in favor of an applicant.

Rural, sleepy Middle Township, and other inland municipalities, are waking up to the fact that a growing population places more burdens on the land, crowding those who were here into tighter quarters. No one likes such an aspect. It’s like trying to squeeze into a pair of size 36 pants when you’re a size 42. It just isn’t a comfortable fit, regardless how much you wiggle and dance.

Same’s true for residents who have long enjoyed the serenity of this county. Sadly, it’s gone. In most cases, that beloved tranquility was legally lost.

Why? Because when zones are placed by a municipality to allow certain activities, as long as a project fits within those parameters, it can’t be denied.

Too often, I’ve heard residents rail about a project bringing more traffic to an area.

The board’s patent answer: We cannot consider traffic impacts here.

It’s outside their jurisdiction, even though, as will be the case when Wal-Mart opens in Rio Grande, traffic on Route 9 will be nothing short of horrendous, especially in the summer months on weekends.

Even with a bypass road, planned by developer William Juliano at a cost of $1 million, traffic on woefully inadequate, two-lane Route 9 will be ghastly at best.

Still, boards cannot — will not — consider such factors.

It’s heart rending to hear senior citizens approach the microphone to protest against a project, then almost break into tears when they tell what a project will do to a neighborhood or to them personally.

Board members sit grim-faced as they listen.

Although master plans are supposed to be blueprints for municipal growth, it’s difficult to look around today and wonder how much thought was really put into zone designations.

As Indian Trail residents pointed out to Middle zoners Jan 12, just up the road from the planned recycling center will be a housing development on a parcel the municipality sold for $6.5 million. If land’s worth that much up the road, and it’s zoned for houses, why not put more affordable houses on the recycling center tract?

It wasn’t an answer the board was prepared to give.

Proof once again as we grow by leaps and bounds, decisions made today will have substantial impacts upon our children and grandchildren.

If we do not like what we see, what can we possibly do to change it for the better?

Boards concerned with zoning and planning would like to know; so would the ordinary citizen.

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