When Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso sees "Clark Overdevelopment" signs dotting lawns adjacent to the Miele's Greenhouse property, where a pending application proposes 39 condos, he gets frustrated.
The signs are the work of the Clark Neighbors, an ad hoc group of residents who are opposed to the condo project for a laundry list of safety, traffic, environmental and aesthetic reasons.
“This overdevelopment thing is completely ridiculous,” says Mayor Bonaccorso, pointing out some of the open spaces that have been preserved under his tenure, like the Esposito Farm, Schwarz Farm, the reservoir and Hyatt Hills. “Thirty-five percent of our properties are open space."
Mayor Bonaccorso says overdevelopment is last thing he wants in Clark and, if he had his way, he wouldn't ever let more condos be built here.
“We were heading down that road before I became mayor,” Mayor Bonaccorso says. “The first memo I ever sent to our township attorney was asking for a moratorium on townhomes and apartments – which our attorney kindly informed me isn’t legal. People need to understand the laws.”
Mayor Bonaccorso feels that residents are sometimes confused as to what the planning board legally can and cannot do.
"What residents need to understand is that the zoning board is an instrument of community for what is not zoned," says Mayor Bonaccorso. "But the planning board simply looks at applications for what is zoned. This property is zoned for multi-family homes, and we can't change that. If we rezoned just this property, that’s called spot zoning. We’d be sued instantly.”
Indeed, residents sometimes confuse the planning board application process for a democratic one – that is, board members should listen to citizens’ concerns and vote based on what it seems most residents want. In fact, the board has little power to deny an application if it meets the requirements of the ordinance. Planning board attorney Michael Cresitello confirms that as long as the applicant meets the requirements of the municipal land use laws, a planning board cannot deny an application simply because there’s public outcry.
Mayor Bonaccorso points to the Retro Fitness gym being built on Terminal Avenue as an example of the planning board’s limited power. According to Cresitello, that application was a conforming application requiring no variances that was denied at the township level and then overturned at the county level.
“The planning board heeded the advice of the community and voted it down, and we had to pay legal fees in that loss as it was overturned,” Mayor Bonaccorso says.
"I tell the folks I appoint to the planning board, feel free to voice your opinion and speak your mind," the mayor says. "But in the end your opinion doesn’t count. What counts is that you follow the law."
Developer George Sangiuliano agrees. "The ordinance has existed for many years, with the property zoned this way since 1991," he says. "Our project meets 100-percent of the ordinance."
At this Thursday's planning board meeting, Sangiuliano will take the mic and explain the project himself, followed by a question and answer period for those in attendance. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Arthur L. Johnson auditorium.
This is the fourth post in our series. Read "Why is Miele's Being Sold?" our first story on the Miele family feud that led to the sale of the property; "'Clark Neighbors' Lead Fight Against Miele's Condos," our second story that profiles the group opposed to the project; and "Developer Responds to Controversy Over Miele’s Condo Project," to hear from developer George Sangiuliano. Also, check back for our coverage of the planning board's second meeting to discuss the application.