Cranbury Township adopts long-awaited scenic corridor overlay ordinance

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Chillas

The Cranbury Township Committee has adopted an amended scenic overlay corridor zone ordinance after a robust debate took place between the committee, professionals and the public.

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.

The ordinance discourages any building, parking lot, lighting, street lighting and planting in 400-feet on either side of the six roads. Township officials said it is designed to discourage any obstruction to the open view.

The vote to adopt the ordinance was not unanimous and resulted in a 4-1 count at the township committee meeting on Dec. 14. Mayor Matt Scott, Deputy Mayor Mike Ferrante, Township Committeewoman Evelyn Spann and Township Committeewoman Barbara Rogers voted “yes” in favor of the ordinance.

Township Committeeman Jay Taylor was the dissenting vote against the ordinance.

Taylor’s vote of “no” revolved around issues with [Section F] under the ordinance regulation regarding scenic corridor overlay standards, specifically ordinance language in building materials, colors and styles.

He spotlighted the sentence “Buildings located within the corridor shall use building materials, color and styles that are aesthetically compatible with the agricultural setting or that are consistent with existing historical styles in Cranbury.”

“I believe that most homeowners in the new overlay zone have no idea that they now have substantial restrictions placed on their home. Further, for many remodels they will not have to get a construction permit or seek zoning approval,” Taylor said in a statement to The Cranbury Press. “If a resident paints, re-roofs, changes porch materials, replaces windows or the like a homeowner needs neither a permit or variance. Therefore, they will not know the work they do is in violation until they get a notice of violation. At that point, they will have a choice of seeking an expensive variance or spending money to make the alteration compliant.”

Township planner Richard Preiss disagreed with a similar assessment presented by Taylor during the township meeting.

“Anytime anyone builds a building the building inspector has to make a determination whether it is in concert with zoning,” he said. “Once this ordinance is adopted the building inspector will have to be alerted to fact that if somebody’s building within 400 feet they are going to be subject to this ordinance. If something comes in he (the inspector) may have to consult with the zoning officer to determine whether it is in compliance with this ordinance or not.”

He added that officials do not want to make it so cumbersome that anybody, who wants to paint their house or expand their footprint, have to go before the board to get approval.

Taylor proposed through the evening debate that a permit or approval process be added in the language or language be changed so an an existing homeowner in the overlay does not run afoul of zoning requirements under the ordinance when conducting work on their house.

“In this ordinance the committee took the restrictiveness of the historic district, but did not do the second part which informs residents and helps avoid expensive conflicts with the zoning requirements through a pre-construction approval process,” he said. “If the town is to take this action to restrict color, materials and design then they have a duty to help educate the resident and not be punitive after the fact.”

Prior to the vote, township attorney Steve Goodell said to the township committee that he would not tell members that what Taylor raised is something they are obligated to do.

“You have to determine if that is something you want to do and a regulation you want to have in Cranbury. If you are considering to do it and want to change the ordinance to reflect that it would obviously be a substantive change to the ordinance,” he said.

If the township committee did decide to go that route, the amended ordinance would have to be re-introduced with the change, and with one meeting left in 2020 the amended ordinance would not be able to be adopted in 2020. The process for the ordinance and work that was currently conducted would restart in the new year.