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The original item was published from 2/10/2023 11:48:24 AM to 2/10/2023 11:52:29 AM.

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Posted on: February 10, 2023

[ARCHIVED] The Facts About the Land Use Application Process in BH

Application Process

The below explainer is being provided to give residents and business owners - as well as potential business owners - in town, clear information about the application process that occurs when a new business wants to come to town. Please note that our Land Use Administrator cannot forward or otherwise convey public sentiment about any one concept plan or application until said application goes before the final Township Board for consideration. The public can only have comment considered during those Board hearings. Thank you. 

The Purpose of the Technical Review Committee and its Process

The Technical Review Committee was established in 2021 in direct response to residents, business owners and potential business owners in town maintaining that the process for going before our Planning and Zoning boards was frustrating and expensive. They didn’t know enough about what was expected of them when they go before those boards, and they would end up having to make repeated appearances before the board, costing them time and money. To make this process easier and more transparent, in 2021 the Township established the TRC to ensure primarily that all applications going before the boards are complete. The purpose of the TRC is NOT to decide on the merits of any application, but rather to ensure that each Board has all of the necessary information it needs to make an informed decision.

Per the ordinance, the TRC was established “to provide advisory review of development applications and requests for development review as presented to the Planning and Zoning Boards. The purpose of the Technical Review Committee is to certify completeness of applications and provide preliminary review by Board professionals to help streamline the application process and provide technical guidance to applicants before applications are heard by the respective Boards. The Technical Review Committee shall be designated and certified as the reviewing authority pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10.3.

“The Technical Review Committee will not offer opinions on the merits of an application or provide any indication of the applicant's potential success in applying. The TRC has no authority to approve or deny an application or circumvent any authority bestowed upon the Berkeley Heights Board of Adjustment or Planning Board.

To that end, the process regarding the proposed WAWA absolutely was followed. An attorney for the applicant contacted the Township Administrator, who subsequently put him in touch with our Land Use Administrator for referral to the TRC. 

Process for Who Receives Plans, Confidentiality & Public Record 

Our Land Use Administrator and the Township Administrator received copies of the plans via email on Nov. 22, 2022, for referral to the TRC. The Township Administrator then forwarded them to the Township Economic Development Committee, to apprise them of the application. The EDC is regularly in contact with potential and current business owners about plans and applications, so they can help potential/current business owners if needed. No action was taken; they were notified for when – if – the application made it to the Planning or Zoning board. Nothing was publicized. 

Per ordinance, the EDC’s purpose is to address “the economic development needs of the Township and advising the Mayor and Township Council of actions the Council may undertake to assist in the economic development of the Township.

The EDC mission is to create a more dynamic and enriched community by:

  • Acting as a liaison between the Township and existing businesses and industries within the Township;
  • Helping to develop programs designed to revitalize existing business properties and attract desirable businesses and industries to the Township;
  • Studying problems in the Township relating to industry and other commercial enterprises; and
  • Formulating policies, programs and projects with respect thereto for recommendation to the Mayor and Township Council

Roughly 2 weeks before the TRC meeting on Jan 26, the Township Land Use Administrator sent the plans to stakeholder groups who, per ordinance, have the opportunity to provide input. Those included: all members of the TRC (Township Engineer, Zoning Officer, Planner, Board Attorney) and in this case, the Fire Chief, our Acting Sewer Plant Director, the Township Council representative to the Downtown Beautification Committee and the Environmental Commission.

Once a complete application is filed, either with the TRC or the Zoning/Planning Board, it becomes a public record. 

The Township is working to memorialize expectations of all those involved in the pre-application process – anyone who, per ordinance, has the opportunity to weigh in on concept reviews and applications before they go before the Planning or Zoning boards.  

Jan. 26 TRC Meeting on the Concept Plan

The TRC meeting on the Wawa concept plan was held January 26; in accordance with its regular procedures, it was not a public meeting. 

The TRC deemed the application incomplete. The applicant only submitted a concept plan, not a formal application. If the applicant decides to proceed with filing a formal application, they will need to go before the TRC again for a completeness review, then, once deemed complete, the Applicant will be scheduled to appear before the appropriate Board for a public hearing. There are currently no scheduled hearings of either the Planning or Zoning Board of Adjustment on any application for this project.  

How the Project Fits with the Township Master Plan

The Township highly encourages everyone to read our award-winning Master Plan, particularly Volume 2: Vision & Goals (link here). Input has been included regarding the type of town residents and businesses desire, while still balancing state-mandated obligations such as affordable housing. That Master Plan was forwarded to Zoning and Planning Board members, to serve as a guiding document in their decision making whenever an application is put forward. 

For example, Section 2.2 of Vol. 2 of the Master Plan is the “Goals and Objectives” section in which specific goals and action items to take to achieve those goals are laid out; land use is addressed in Section 2.2.1.

The Master Plan is also considered by the Board when it grants variance relief. Specifically, an Applicant seeking variance relief must demonstrate the positive and negative criteria pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70. The negative criteria specifically require the Applicant to demonstrate that the proposal will not result in substantial detriment to the public good or substantial impairment of the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Give this legal requirement, the Boards are required to consider whether the project is consistent with the intent and purpose of the Master Plan. 

 Next Steps for This Project: Meetings with the Zoning Board, Environmental Committee, Planning Board

The TRC deemed the application incomplete. The applicant only submitted a concept plan, not a formal application. If the applicant decides to proceed with filing a formal application, it will need to go before the TRC again for a completeness review, before moving on to the appropriate Board (Zoning or Planning) for a public hearing. Once the application is deemed complete and a date is scheduled for a hearing, members of the public will receive mailed notice if they are within 200 feet of the development and the Applicant is required to publish notice in the paper. Members of the public can also check the municipal website, particularly the agendas for the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board to see what applications are scheduled for a hearing. Once the application is scheduled, copies of the application materials and plans must be made available to members of the public at least 10 days in advance of said hearing. Members of the public are critical in shaping the Township and we very much appreciate resident participation. However, there are laws and procedures for such participation.

While you may want to email comments and questions or letters of objection and petitions, such documents are not admissible, though of course the writer of a letter or signer of a petition may appear and testify at the hearing him or herself or through counsel. Where the writer or signer is not available for cross-examination, however, such documents should not be received into evidence by the board. Seibert v. Dover Tp. Bd. of Adj., 174 N.J. Super. 548 (Law Div. 1980). See also Exxon Co. v. Bernardsville Bd. of Adj., 196 N.J. Super. 183 (Law Div. 1984) in which the court noted that the fact that the board placed in evidence a petition opposing an application was one indicator that the board considered the wrong things in denying the variance at issue.

In short, thank you for your interest in shaping our Township and please continue to stay involved in the community.

For more, please read in TAPinto Berkeley Heights: 'Wawa Application Deemed Incomplete: What's Next?'

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