LAKEWOOD COMMITTEE COULD ALLOW RESIDENTS OPPORTUNITY TO APPEAL BOARD APPROVALS

Every New Jersey municipality is required to have either separate planning or zoning boards, or one combined land use board. Lakewood has 2 separate boards.


Planning and zoning board members are not elected officials. They are appointed annually by the Township Committee who are elected officials.


The Township Committee - at the recommendation and approval of the Planning Board - adopts the zoning ordinances which delineate what specific uses are permitted in every zone, as well as the setbacks for each permitted use.


The Planning Board hears applications only for uses which are permitted in the zone. Variances which adhere to all setbacks are considered by-right and the Board is technically unable to deny these applications. However, a majority of applications presented to the Planning Board do have some Setback variances and those applications could be denied if the Board feels that the the benefits of the deviation are not sufficient to substantially outweigh any detriment.


The Zoning Board hears applications mainly for uses which are not permitted in the zone ("use variances"), as well as applications for density and height variances. In essence, the role of the Zoning Board is to determine when to override the wishes of the Township Committee. Unlike the Planning Board, the Zoning Board not only may deny the application, but legally must deny an application unless the applicant can testify why his variance application is a "particular case for special reasons".


Often, Lakewood Township's planning and zoning boards vote against the wishes of the majority of Lakewood residents - even when many neighbors attend the meetings and speak up in fierce opposition to the applications.


When neighbors are upset after the planning or zoning board votes to approve an application, they often run to the next Township Committee to voice their opposition, to complain about the Board, and to beg the Committee to "do something about the approval". However, in Lakewood, once the planning or zoning board votes to approve or deny an application, their vote can only be overturned if someone files a lawsuit in Superior Court. The Township Committee is unable to review Board actions and override them.


However.... this is only because the Township Committee has never taken action to grant themselves this right. 


Yup! The Township Committee does have a way to do good for the residents of this town, if they only wanted to!


The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (40:55D-17) permits governing bodies (such as Lakewood's Township Committee) to adopt by ordinance, an allowance for "any interested party to appeal to the governing body any final decision of a board of adjustment approving an application for development"!


If Lakewood's Township Committee would adopt such an ordinance, they would be able to hear appeals from neighbors, and to reverse Board approvals, or choose to affirm with or without whatever conditions the board imposed as part of their approval.


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