Residents Speak-Out Against Rezoning Application
Leave the property alone. That was the message conveyed by three Scotch Plains residents at the Township Council meeting Tuesday night.
They spoke in opposition to a property developer's application to rezone a wooded tract of land on North Avenue from residential to mixed-use property. If approved, the developer could erect offices and multi-family dwellings at the site, which is adjacent to Charlie Brown's restaurant.
"If it's made [commercial], there's no place to park," said Wesley Chase, a resident of Bryant Avenue, which intersects North Avenue near the potential rezoning site. "The other issue is drainage. I, myself, clean out the drain beneath railroad tracks because no one else does it." If he does not clear debris from the runoff drain, he said, the area floods.
Michael Abate, a four-year resident of Promenade, which is a part of Bryant Avenue, also expressed concerns regarding drainage and flooding. "There are multiple sinkholes on my property, which I'm constantly finding," he said.
Both Abate and Chase, who was joined at the meeting by his wife, Ellen, asked the council to reject the developer's application to rezone the land. "Would it be such a terrible thing to consider leaving well enough alone?" Abate wrote in an email Wednesday morning. "Is rezoning for commercial development absolutely necessary? Do we need one more nail salon, dry cleaner, deli, etc?"
Mayor Nancy Malool said that if the Council does decide to rezone the property, it will hold a public hearing on the matter.
Can't You Read the Sign? Maybe Not, Council Says
During the conference session that preceded the council's regular meeting Tuesday night, members of the Scotch Plains Planning Board introduced an ordinance that would institute regulations for LED signs – electronic message boards that can display colored text and moving images. The Planning Board approved the ordinance June 14, and it must pass the Township Council to become law.
"This is something that's state of the art, but will become more prevalent in the future," Planning Board member Michal Isin said of the signs. "The reason that we did this was to establish standards, because there are no standards."
To date, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School remains the only township property with an LED signboard, which was approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Evangel Church on Terrill Road has also applied to install an LED sign on its front lawn, but the Board of Adjustment placed that application on hold until the township codifies standards for the devices.
If approved by the Township Council, the ordinance would restrict LED signs to non-residential properties, and limit their size, brightness, color scheme and hours of operation. It would also prohibit the use of moving type or animations.
The ordinance, however, sparked heated debate when it was introduced at the Planning Board's meeting June 14. Council and Planning Board members revisited the arguments at the council's meeting Tuesday night.
"This is not the character of Scotch Plains – red lights, blinking lights, shooting lasers," Councilman Dominick Bratti said, adding that the devices distract drivers. He argued that Zoning Board of Adjustment should rule on the signs on a case-by-case basis, and that the devices should be otherwise banned from the township.
As Bratti spoke, Planning Board president Paulette Coronato, sitting on the side of the conference room, sighed and shook her head. Coronato, Isin and Zoning Officer Bob LaCosta argued that the lack of codified standards for the signs could, at best, lead to "a hodgepodge" of sign styles, and at worst, bring about lawsuits that could result in blanket approval for the signs.
Township Attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said that he agreed that the township should implement standards for the signs. "There has to be some certainty" of the regulations, he said. The Zoning Board of Adjustment, rather than being the first recourse for property owners wishing to install LED signs, he said, "must be the court of last appeal."
Lehrer added that some "progressive towns" had instituted comprehensive regulation of LED lights, and he offered to examine those township's ordinances for the council's next meeting Sept. 7. Bratti, meanwhile, called for more research on the signs and how they might affect driver behavior.
Pending further review and research by Lehrer, Bratti and the Council and Planning Board, the matter was tabled until September.