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