Tensions Present at Planning Board Meeting


The Clifton Planning Board met for their regularly scheduled meeting on March 23, 2023, at 7 pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall. According to the city’s website, the Planning Board's responsibility 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.” The planning board receives applications from businesses or citizens and reviews applications for development in the city. Item 6 on the agenda, at 558-600 Getty Avenue, has been withdrawn as it was found to belong before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

833 Clifton Avenue was back to the council chambers as their application continued before the Planning Board. Taking into consideration the board's questions and issues from the previous meeting, modifications were made to their plans. These additions/modifications include: Four paved spaces (including one disabled space), additional spaces made for grass pavers, a modified catch basin, hours modified to 7 am-1o pm, and blowers being moved further back inside the building, away from doors, to reduce noise leakage (requiring the building to be larger than in the original plan). In addition to this, new trees, shrubs, and arbor vitae will be planted. Representatives from Neglia, an engineering consulting group, said that their concerns had been addressed.

Vice Chairman John Withers asked Mr. Donahue, the applicant’s attorney, about how the impervious surface was changed with the new plans. He testified that it’s been reduced to 226 sq ft. of impervious surface. Commissioner Welsh pointed out that an aspect of the applicant's measurements when it comes to an aisle perpendicular to parking spaces is less than what the ordinance requires. Their plans showed 14.8 ft with the requirement being 24. The applicant then amended their application to include this variance, once a city representative confirmed that the shortcoming requires requesting a variance. Another solution to this issue that the applicant may decide to go with is just to make the parking spaces angled.

Michael Dick was the applicant's next witness. Dick is a senior engineer of six years and testified as an acoustic engineer. After taking sound readings at the property (regular traffic: 65-70 DBA, taken around 6:30 PM) the engineer testified that the sound coming from the requested car wash will be under state and local ordinances. Vice Chairman Withers questioned Mr. Dick, attempting to receive clarification on a comparable sound that the blowers would cause. He testified that at 62 decibels, depending on the distance and quality of the sound, the sound is comparable to a window unit air conditioner. The counselor for the board, Robert Ferraro, intervened to provide clarification on the issue of the noise ordinance.

The ordinances and policies regarding this conditional use ordinance are more restrictive than the city noise ordinance and require more testing than what Mr. Dick conducted. In order for a car wash to be approved on this lot, it must meet certain conditions and one is that the noise level not exceed the ambient noise levels from that area. Commissioner Lataro and the vice-chair both seemed to believe that acoustical padding inside the building itself could be used to treat the sound issue. Mr. Donahue asked one of the city representatives to recall a conversation she had when speaking to someone from the Board of Health with the city. Mr. Ferraro once again intervened, “That's like, neither here nor there, like double or triple hearsay… and furthermore it doesn't matter what they say. What matters is the ordinance.”

City Manager Nick Villano’s biggest issue with the project is the sound. He called it basically a tunnel with blowers at one end. Mr. Donahue continued to argue that the best way to take the test is at the highest level of traffic since the ordinance does not explicitly state when it is appropriate to measure. “…I can’t believe that it was the intent of the drafters of this ordinance to say that when there was no traffic there, we expect no noise coming from that site; that makes no sense.” Counselor Ferraro responded, “We read the plain language of the ordinance... The intent is one thing, the plain language is another… to make that argument would mean that the mayor and council weren't concerned about the neighbor at ten o'clock at night when you're still blowing the same decibels and now you can hear it because the ambient noise is a lot less. I can't believe that they weren't concerned about that.”

“It’s a carwash…to imply a restriction with levels of testing which are unreasonable… is inappropriate,” responded Mr. Donahue as a back-and-forth ensued. Ferraro wants testing done during all proposed hours of operation (7 am to 10 pm, seven days a week). Ferraro argued that the applicant during that time could never exceed the street level in order to comply with the conditional use criterion. Vice Chairman Withers recommended a noise sampling showing multiple days of the week to get a real sense of what dBA levels are, and when. The City Manager said, “I’m not getting the comfort level from the answers you're giving me…” when referring to how he felt about the sound issue. He cited it as being a main aggravator to residents in addition to the congestion.

Commissioner Binaso called the applicant’s depiction of the cars being stacked in the photo bumper to bumper as “ludicrous.” He believes the doors constantly opening and closing would allow too much noise to escape. When asked for guidance on testing the sound, the board, counsel, Neglia Engineering (hired by the city to consult during meetings), and Mr. Donahue all went back and forth between interpreting the ordinance, and conditional use policies that’ll ultimately decide where to test (which street, on the corner, etc.).

Mayor Grabowski motioned to carry the application to another meeting until the city's sound consultant could conduct their own tests. April 27, 2023, is the next scheduled meeting when further testimony will be heard.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is April 27, 2023 at 7 pm at City Hall.

To read the agenda click HERE.

To view this meeting click HERE.

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