Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Record: Englewood Cliffs Borough Council abolishes zoning board, shifts authority to planners

Englewood Cliffs Borough Council abolishes zoning board, shifts authority to planners

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — The Borough Council has formally dis­solved the Board of Adjustment in a party-line vote that transfers its powers and responsibilities to the Planning Board.
The 3-1 vote followed four months of delayed public hearings, debates and legal filings on the mat­ter. Carrol McMorrow, the lone Republican on the council, cast the sole dissenting vote. Councilman Ilan Plawker and Councilwoman Melanie Simon were absent.
“It makes economic sense,” said Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr., who cham­pioned the merger. “There will def­initely be cost savings, not great, but cost savings are cost savings.”
The mayor and council agreed to delay publishing notice of the vote, which would effectively con­solidate the boards, by 15 days so that the Adjustment Board could meet one last time to memorialize a residential application it recently approved.

February lawsuit

Parisi introduced the ordinance at the Jan. 7 reorganization meet­ing. But Adjustment Board Chair­man Russell Porrino filed a lawsuit in February arguing that the mayor violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act at that meeting be­cause he failed to hold a public comment portion as required by law. Porrino alleged that any action taken at that meeting was invalid.
Porrino also argued that the or­dinance was not on the agenda, an­other violation. As a result of his suit, the council reintroduced the ordinance in March and scheduled a public hearing and final vote for Wednesday. The lawsuit is pend­ing.
“While merging boards is not unusual these days, what transpired in Englewood Cliffs is a travesty,” Porrino said Thursday. “There can be no argument that the rush to dis­solve our board was in the best in­terests of the residents. If I had not filed suit against Mayor Parisi and the borough for violating the Open Public Meetings Act, the process would have been done in less than 30 days. The residents should be asking why the rush to judgment?”
Prior lawsuits
Porrino was the first to speak during the public hearing and an­nounced that two lawsuits have been filed against the Adjustment Board’s approval of LG Electronics USA’s new North American head­quarters at the former Prentice Hall site on Sylvan Avenue.
He questioned what would hap­pen when the lawsuits go before a judge if the Adjustment Board no longer exists.
Parisi said he had gotten a legal opinion and recommended keep­ing the Adjustment Board’s attor­ney on the payroll to handle those lawsuits. Porrino argued that if the Adjustment Board is dissolved, there is a chance that LG would have to reapply to the Planning Board, which could mean another year of hearings.
Among those testifying on the ordinance was Gregg Pastor, the borough attorney in Dumont, where voters agreed to combine its two land-use boards. Englewood Cliffs does not have to have a refer­endum because it has fewer than 15,000 residents.
Pastor said in most small towns, which are almost entirely devel­oped, there is a lack of planning ap­plications. But state statute does not allow the Planning Board to be merged into the Adjustment Board, so the zoning powers are given to the Planning Board, he said.
“Particularly in this down build­ing market there has been some ef­ficiency that has been gained in terms of what is going on in Du­mont,” Pastor said.

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