HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council removed two proposed land use ordinances from a meeting agenda and rejected two other proposed land use ordinances in the waning days of 2020.
During a meeting on Nov. 10, council members introduced four land use ordinances:
• O-20-18 would amend the municipal code to add the terms assisted living facility and craft distillery to definitions and rules of general applicability;
• O-20-19 would make craft distilleries and assisted living facilities permitted uses in Howell’s Highway Development 1 (HD-1) zone;
• O-20-20 would amend the municipal code to adopt a new zoning district to be known as the Special Economic Development Light (SED-Light) zone;
• O-20-21 would amend Howell’s zoning map to rezone properties currently designated as ARE-6 to SED-Light.
Each ordinance was scheduled for a public hearing and a possible vote for adoption at the council’s Dec. 8 meeting; the final meeting of 2020.
Following their introduction in November, the four proposed ordinances were sent to the Howell Planning Board, which is charged with reviewing certain proposed ordinances and determining if the legislation is consistent with Howell’s master plan.
During the Dec. 3 meeting of the Planning Board, the board members determined that ordinances No. 20 and No. 21 regarding the proposed SED-Light zone were not consistent with the master plan.
The board members determined that ordinances No. 18 and No. 19 regarding craft distilleries and assisted living facilities in the HD-1 zone were consistent with the master plan.
The agenda for the Dec. 8 meeting of the Township Council included a public hearing and a possible vote for adoption for ordinances No. 18 and No. 19 regarding craft distilleries and assisted living facilities in the HD-1 zone. On separate roll call votes, council members voted unanimously to reject both ordinances.
Council members said ordinances No. 20 and No. 21 regarding the proposed SED-Light zone had been pulled from the agenda because of objections from residents.
Mayor Theresa Berger told the Tri-Town News that “Councilman (John) Bonevich and I do not believe in spot zoning. … It seems this is what the majority on council has done for many ordinances in the past two years… maybe poor planning on their part?”
Berger and Bonevich are the Democrats on the council. Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilman Tom Russo are the Republicans.
Bonevich told the Tri-Town News that “as we know, a lot has changed in the last two years. In 2020, besides being in a pandemic, our Planning Board chair failed to appoint a master plan subcommittee.
“The times are changing and our surroundings are changing. We are seeing major warehouse applications coming in consistently. I refuse to take on any vote without due diligence and go against the best interest of the town and residents living here.
“Also, the conservation portion of our master plan states (that the town should) conserve our rural character. The proposed zoning ordinances that were being rushed through do not achieve that goal. So I voted no,” he said.
Russo said, “It is my opinion that this is not the time to be rezoning property. While I agree we need to enact good policy that attracts new businesses like micro-breweries, craft distilleries, etc., we need to consider all of the relevant factors and that requires extensive time, research and planning.
“I am looking forward to working with the rest of the governing body to formulate a plan on how we plan to move Howell forward into 2021 and beyond,” he said.
Richmond said she supports business growth, but said the development needs to slow down.
“Ordinance introduction gives us (the governing body) the opportunity to vet and understand what other boards may be proposing. Having dug into this proposal, I’m simply not in favor of more possible large development. It just needs to stop. I’m for more business growth where needed, but right now we need to slow and stop development, period,” Richmond said.
During the Dec. 8 council meeting, Township Attorney Jospeh Clark reported that the Planning Board had determined ordinances No. 20 and No. 21 regarding the proposed SED-Light zone were not consistent with Howell’s master plan.
Clark said the initial report from the board did not list the inconsistencies, but he said the council would eventually receive a resolution with the inconsistencies listed. He said an ordinance that has been introduced in one year cannot be voted on in a different year. The proposed legislation would have to be reintroduced.
Bonevich said the council heard from residents of Yellowbrook Road who are opposed to changing agricultural zoning to the proposed SED-Light zone.
Richmond said the council members were listening to what the residents had to say.
Russo said the petitions the residents submitted regarding the proposed rezoning did not go to waste.
“It was very useful to me in making a determination as to where I am on this thing. I did a site visit, I looked into this extensively and those petitions (from residents) helped me come to the conclusion that now is not a time to rezone. I won’t be supporting the rezoning. I appreciate the residents, I appreciate the hard work. It wasn’t for nothing,” Russo said.