Mayor Responds to Gypsum Rezoning Criticism; Public Hearing Tonight at ALJ
The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium.
Monday night's Clark Council meeting got heated when a resident took to the mic to argue against the town's proposed zoning change to the U.S. Gypsum property to encourage a new commercial town center.
Bill Caruso, who previously questioned the rezoning at the planning board's March 7 meeting, stated his case again and asked several questions of the mayor and council regarding the proposed change and master plan reexamination.
Caruso, a former Clark councilman and president of Clark Senior Housing, said he was representing concerns from residents in the second ward who have not heard from their councilman, Council President Pat O'Connor, on this matter.
Caruso asked why the buyer of the property didn't come before the zoning board and ask for a variance instead of the town undertaking a master plan reexamination. He also questioned whether the town was footing the bill for the reexamination and why the environmental committee had not had a report on what cleanup would be necessary at the site.
Caruso also expressed that he had heard from others that the rezoning was "a done deal" and asked whether the mayor or anyone else had already met with the developers interested in the property and saw their plan. He further added that if a new shopping center is put in, it will harm busness owners already here.
Finally, Caruso again stated that he had tried to meet with the mayor to discuss all of this and also requested to appear on TV36 with him. Mayor Bonaccorso previously told Patch that he did not respond to Caruso's requests.
First, Town Attorney Joseph Triarsi responded to Caruso. Triarsi said that it was under his advisement that the town proceed with the master plan reexamination, as it is one of two ways to rezone a property and allows for the public to be more fully informed. He added that the reexamination and consultants hired by the town to complete it were paid for by U.S. Gypsum, not taxpayer money. Also, Triari said they "haven't got a clue" who the developers interested in the property are. Finally, he added that an environmental assessment is premature at this stage and when it is undertaken any remediation necessary will be governed by state law.
Mayor Sal Bonaccorso gave Caruso a lengthy response, taking nearly 30 minutes to answer his questions and ask him some in return.
The mayor argued that Caruso's crusade is motivated by his desire to make a business deal of his own regarding the site, attempting to present it to a solar panel company that would create a solar field on the property. Bonaccorso said the town was then threatened with a lawsuit because Caruso represented the property as a realtor without approval from U.S. Gypsum to do so.
Bonaccorso reiterated the points Triarsi made and added that he also has concerns about any plan proposed for the site after the rezoning, especially regarding traffic. He added that the town only has so much power to deny an application for traffic concerns – saying only onsite (not public road) traffic can be a reason for denial – but that ameliorating such concerns and issues will be part of the process for this property. Bonaccorso also said he will not support big box stores or very small stores that might compete with existing stores in town, but instead hopes to bring a new range of mid-size stores to town.
Bonaccorso said he refused to meet with Caruso after learning that Caruso had taken to the NJ.com Clark forum to criticize him, and he questioned why he should debate him or any citizen with a beef on TV36. He further encouraged the residents of the second ward and all Clark residents to always feel free to contact his office with their concerns and questions, saying that they do not need Caruso as a "self-appointed vanguard."
Finally, the mayor argued against any innuendo's of inpropriety regarding the process or that the property is a "done deal."
"Mr. Caruso likes to get up and drop innuendos about secret meetings and 'don’t you know what’s going on' and 'they’re up to something,'" said Bonaccorso. …'Whose pocket are they in?' I’ll say it again as I did before, if anybody feels anyone on council, the planning board, the zoning board are in someone’s pockets, getting a free dinner, going out to clandestine locations looking for something, please come to my office with your proof. I will personally drive you down to the Union County prosecutor’s office. … Because you may not agree with something, doesn’t mean those people are criminals or bad people."
The Clark Planning Board will meet tonight for a public hearing on the plan, prepared by Planner Kevin O'Brien of Shamrock Enterprises and Town Engineer Richard O'Connor, which suggests a new "Limited Commercial Industrial" district for the Gypsum property (currently zoned for industrial use) and the ShopRite side of Central Avenue from Raritan Road to the Parkway circle.
The vision presented in the plan is for a new town center – an environmentally friendly commercial center with retail and office space in "a park like setting with tree-lined streets" and with "a central architectural focus such as a fountain, plaza, clock tower or landscaped boulevard."
See a PDF of the full report in our gallery, right.
What do you think of the plan for a new town center? Tell us in the comments.