Master Plan Reexamination Report Approved in Unanimous Vote
The Clifton Planning Board met on Thursday, January 26, 2023 and began with its reorganization meeting where newly appointed commissioner Matt Trella and Councilman Bill Gibson were welcomed aboard. The public meeting began at 7 and several citizens, who were expecting to hear details of the Master Plan Reexamination Report, spoke during public comments about their frustration and disappointment at having not seen the revised version of the report.
According to the city website, the Planning Board’s purpose is to “Exercise its powers in regard to the Master Plan, subdivision control, Capital improvements, site plan review and conditional use approval and application of developments.”
Jill Hartmann, the Board Planner, started by reminding the Board and the public that the initial draft of this report was covered in a public hearing in October. As a result of that meeting, she said, a significant number of recommendations were added to the report and all that was left for the Planning Board to do was adopt it. She said that they have held several meetings on it already so discussion was not really necessary unless anyone had questions.
The report must cover five elements:
- The major problems and objectives relating to land development in the 2008 reexamination plan.
- The extent to which these problems and objectives have been reduced or have increased since then.
- The extent to which there have been significant changes in the assumptions, policies, and objectives forming the basis for the master plan or development regulations, with particular regard to density and population.
- The specific changes recommended for the master plan or development regulations…or whether a new plan should be prepared.
- Recommendations of the Planning Board concerning incorporating redevelopment plans into the land use plan element of the master plan.
Councilman Antonio Latona was the first member of the public to speak. He said that he “thought this was just going to be a starting point; not a night for approving the plan.” Latona asked if anything in the report would have stopped some of the current and controversial projects, like the redevelopment of the Black Prince Distillery or the construction of a new hotel adjacent to the Valley Regency catering hall on Valley Road. “No,” Hartmann responded initially, though she quickly added that some changes to the Reexamination Report may have resulted in obstacles for the hotel as slope requirements had been updated.
Latona also asked about the population figures that the draft relied on, which were from 2017 when Clifton had a population about 6,500 fewer than today. Hartmann did not acknowledge that this was a significant difference and responded that “This board does not authorize redevelopment (referencing both projects Latona mentioned). That’s the job of the City Council.”
Former candidate for City Council Dr. Alessia Eramo also addressed the Board. She asked for a copy of the revisions so that she could give more appropriate feedback and suggested that it not be approved until the public has a chance to see it. Hartmann said that the Master Plan Reexamination Report is an administrative report with recommendations and that they are not required to include public comment in it. In response to resident Ray Robertello’s question about how he could know if his comments from March had been considered in the revision, she said, “I don’t know.”
Planning and Zoning are both autonomous boards; they don’t affect each other, Hartmann further explained. The Zoning Board cannot have council members on it while this board does.
Resident and open space advocate Ann Schnakenberg asked, “Can’t you stop the Zoning Board from approving certain things?” Hartmann replied simply, “No,” and went on to explain that Zoning can allow for significant alterations to the use of a property but Planning does not. According to Think Architecture, “land planning and land use is the way that people adapt the land to suit their needs whereas zoning is how the government regulates the land.”
“It's good that our Master Plan is getting the attention it deserves but it's up to our city leaders to make sure that it doesn't end up being just a Master Suggestion,” Schnakenberg later said. “They need to work together to reboot our outdated zoning laws. We all need to work together to make sure this happens.”
After closing public comments, the Planning Board unanimously approved the reexamination report without the public seeing the revisions. Commissioner Greco, City Manager Villano, and Councilman Gibson were not present for the vote.
The next meeting of the Planning Board will be on Thursday, February 23 at 7 pm in the Municipal Courtroom at City Hall.