Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Planners Bound by '11 Rezoning

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Planners Bound by '11 Rezoning

Article excerpt

MAHWAH -- Through 21 months of hearings, it was said over and over again by the Planning Board and the developer: "We're bound by 1684."

And ultimately, the vote by the Planning Board on an application to build a shopping center at the International Crossroads also was bound by Ordinance 1684, the controversial law the Mahwah Council adopted in March 2011 changing the zoning of the site from office to retail.

The board voted 6-3 Monday night to approve Crossroads Developers Associates preliminary site plan to build 600,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and a movie theater at the intersection of Routes 17, 287 and 87.

The timeline for when shovels hit the ground is unclear because the developer still needs state approvals and must submit a final site plan application to the Planning Board.

The affirming vote came after a motion to deny the application by board member Ward Donigian failed to get enough votes. Donigian dubbed 1684 "the bible" during two years of testimony because it was often the reason changes couldn't be made to the plan -- such as adding the Suburban Propane property to the site during talks about traffic access to the mall.

Dozens of residents, many with great emotion, told the board their feelings about the project in more than 2 1/2 hours of public comments. All but one opposed it.

When it was time to vote, 1684 reared its head again.

Board attorney Peter Scandariato set out the laws that bind the decision on a preliminary site plan approval -- including that the board can't deny the application based on existing off-site traffic issues.

"The main point I was trying to get across ... is the law in New Jersey is generally when a planning board is presented with a variance-free application, it really can't deny it," Scandariato said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The board's review, he said, was limited to whether the plan met the zoning and site plan ordinances within the township.

"If it's variance-free and meets all the requirements, it would be improper to deny it, and the board's actions could be challenged in court," Scandariato said.

Ordinance 1684 has already been through the Superior Court with lawsuits from the grassroots Committee to Stop the Mahwah Mall, the Village of Suffern and the developer each challenging various aspects of it. …

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