By SHERRI RUGGIERI
I was compelled to write this analysis when I was told that the Planning Board is the board of “yes.” This statement is an oversimplification.
Although the Planning Board (PB) reviews “permitted uses” for subdivisions and minor site plans, there still can be controversy and an application can be denied. This holds true even if there are no variances requested in the application. After hearing the applicant’s testimony, in what is like a mini-trial, the Planning Board will rely upon its hired Planner, Engineer, and Board Attorney. Sometimes there even will be testimony by the applicant’s traffic consultant. The meeting is then opened to members of the public who wish to speak as to this application. Many times, numerous conditions are attached to a preliminary or final approval. The PB’s primary responsibility is to revise the Master Plan and send its recommendations to Council (the governing body). Additionally, the Planning Board will evaluate areas in need of Redevelopment and a proposed Redevelopment Plan, which is an overlay of zoning for the site. New Jersey’s share of affordable housing is also evaluated by the PB.
The Zoning Board (ZB) sometimes referred to as the Board of Adjustment (BOA) determines whether or not to grant “non-permitted uses” (use variances) and changes to the zone based upon the Master Plan. The ZB will hear applications for deviations and alterations, which are called variances. The zoning ordinance regulates uses for that zone, setbacks, and other requirements. At the time of the hearing, the applicant must prove specific positive and negative criteria to justify the granting of relief from the Land Use Ordinance and obtain variances for use or bulk standards. During the hearing, the applicant’s experts will testify as to why the relief can be granted without violating the underlying purposes of the regulations and will not be a detriment to the public good.
Any adverse decision (denial of an application) by either the PB, ZB, or BOA can be appealed by the applicant through the Court system.
Sherri Ruggieri is the managing editor of Empire State News. A practicing attorney for over 20 years, Ms. Ruggieri is also chairperson of Edison Township’s Planning Board. Additionally, she has served as a college professor, with nearly a decade of experience in teaching law and political science courses.
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