Cranbury Township moves ahead with scenic overlay ordinance

ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

Cranbury’s Township Committee introduced a scenic overlay corridor zone ordinance earlier this month, as part of checking off a long-awaited master plan agenda item for the township.

The zone was revisited in 2010 and recommended from the 2010 Cranbury Township adopted master plan. Then, the language was drafted for the zone in 2015. The township’s 2019 Master Plan Reexamination Report would go on to also recommend the implementation of such a zone in town.

The scenic corridor overlay preserves the open space corridors of front property line of six of main roadways in Cranbury: Dey Road, Plainsboro Road, Cranbury Neck Road, John White and George Davison Road, and Ancil Davison Road. The zone would be land in the agricultural preservation district and residential light impact district.

“So 400 feet on either side of the six roads, we discourage any building, parking lot, lighting, street lighting and planting. It is designed to discourage any obstruction to the open view,” Township Committeewoman Evelyn Spann said. “When you live an an area that is as densely populated as New Jersey, being able to drive those roads and have that openness really does give residents, visitors and commuters a positive and refreshing feel. We already have that, but we wanted to protect that.”

The Cranbury Zoning Committee recommended the scenic corridor overlay ordinance for its township committee introduction on Nov. 9. Now, the scenic corridor overlay must go before the Cranbury Planning Board for a master plan consistency review. The township committee is set to hold a public hearing for adoption on Dec. 14.

“When I inherited the Zoning Committee, we were given 10 charges of Master Plan Reexamination initiatives that have to do with land use ordinances that we were tackling,” Spann said. “I thought the scenic corridor overlay would be low hanging fruit and the easiest one to do, since this had been on the master plan for so long. Knowing what I know now and what I have learned, when something is on a plan for a very long time and it does not go through, there are lot to it and concerns than that.”

She added that the scenic corridor overlay zone seemed like a good place to start for the Zoning Committee, Cranbury Planning Board and Township Committee, out of the 10 initiatives from reexamination plan.

“The Planning Board is one that derives the master plan and in 2019 we adopted the 2020-30 master plan. The scenic corridor overlay is also on the new master plan. It has never gone away and has always been there, there had been concerns about it,” Spann said. “One of the biggest concerns was will this restrict our farming communities to use our own land. That was one of the misconceptions of the scenic corridor overlay.”

In the summer of 2020, after a township committee workshop was conducted on the ordinance, Spann reached out to farmers in Cranbury to gauge their take on the zone. The ordinance did face some pushback when farmers indicated that they had enough restrictions already.

“I explained how the scenic corridor overlay works and also that right-to-farm supersedes the scenic corridor overlay. We had to take some time to look at the ordinance again on the Zoning Committee,” Spann said. “We then came to a point where if you introduce an ordinance in one year and have a first reading, it does not carry over into the next year. We either pass it this year or start over next year. If are not going to pass it and never going to pass it, I am very happy to put a sword in it and say do not bring it up again.”

In the ordinance’s paragraph on exceptions it has now been strengthened to state: [All construction, uses and activities which are conducted or protected under the “right-to farm” provisions of the Township Code at Chapter 81-1 et. seq shall be exempt from the requirements of the scenic corridor overlay zone (SCO Zone). However, property owners and farmers within the SCO Zone are encouraged to adhere to the spirit and intent of this ordinance on a voluntary basis, for the overall benefit of the Ttownship.], according to the ordinance.

“That tiny little paragraph took a tremendous amount of work to assure that our farmers are not being restricted by this, but encourage our farmers to keep areas open for the first 400 feet,” Spann added.