The bulk of Garwood Council's Tuesday night discussion centered on a question posed by resident Al Delconte: Should residents be notified of zoning changes in the master plan?
The borough is required to adopt a master plan every 10 years, and the 2009 plan formally adopted by ordinance on Oct. 25 of last year changed several of the borough's multi-family home zones into single-family home zones.
Those homes that were currently multi-family homes were grandfathered in and can remain multi-family homes; however, homeowners must apply for a new certificate of occupancy within a year of the zoning change if they do not already have one. Legally, the borough has no obligation to individually notify residents of the change or the need for a multi-family certificate of occupancy if they don't presently have one.
Borough Administrator Christina Ariemma said that after speaking with Delconte earlier in the week she found that multi-family homeowners who are now nonconforming in a single-family zone (because of the changes in the 2009 master plan) can apply for a certificate at no additional cost through borough engineer Victor Vinegra. However, that application must happen within a year of when the ordinance was adopted, leaving affected homeowners just a few weeks now to make the Oct. 25 deadline.
Delconte's question was spawned after the borough's most recent planning board meeting where he claims an elderly woman had to come before the board and pay more than $400 for a special meeting to get a certificate of occupancy for her two-family home, as she did not know her home was nonconforming and was in the process of selling it. (The board did indeed grant her the CO at the meeting.)
Planning board member Kathy Villagio explained that the woman Delconte mentioned was not affected by the most recent master plan and had had a nonconforming home some time before those changes.
"I know it's the law and I know you don't have to notify me, and yet if I want to do something with zoning changes I have to notify all the neighbors within 200 feet," said Delconte, who owns a two-family home affected by the change. "Now I've got until the 25th, I’m just told now, and I've got to find out what to do to get this corrected so as to not incur this. But what about all other people in town? I've got a cousin on Second Ave. that’s stuck in this same predicament who probably doesn’t even know about it."
Councilmembers discussed whether they could individually mail residents notification and Mayor Patricia Quattrocchi suggested an amnesty or extended deadline for those affected, saying she could perhaps mention the zoning changes in an upcoming newsletter.
Councilwoman Sara Todisco suggested investigating how other towns deal with the issue of notification and zoning changes, noting that every municipality in the state is required to create a master plan and so must come across this issue. "Sometimes stealing an idea is good thing," said Todisco.
William Nierstadt, Garwood Democratic council candidate and Plainfield city planner, had some answers for councilmembers on the issue, pointing out that the law prohibits allowing an amnesty past the one-year deadline. Nierstadt also suggested using the newsletter as opposed to individual mailings to notify affected residents of the issue, saying "you are always going to miss someone." Nierstadt suggested the mayor urge residents to get a CO earlier, before when they are in the process of selling their home.