EDISON – The recent appointments to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment brought concerns of “business as usual” for some residents, who have voiced opposition against potential development on the former Charlie Brown’s steakhouse site and a warehouse in the Glendale and Silverlake neighborhoods.
“Over the past year Edison residents have been discussing and protesting overdevelopment, bad development of houses, land use, developer overreach and controversial planning and zoning board decisions,” resident Lori Jordan said at a Township Council meeting on Jan. 26. “Many residents are alarmed and upset. There are several Facebook groups, specifically dedicated to overdevelopment in various areas of Edison. We’ve been interviewed by newspapers, we’ve had a podcast, we’ve had rallies … it’s discouraging.”
Jordan said she hopes the council considers someone who will work for the residents for the other open positions.
Currently, a full-time and a second alternate position are open on the Zoning Board.
The council approved Mayor Sam Joshi’s recommendations to reappoint John Soltesz as a Class II Planning Board member; reappoint Jagpaviterjit Singh as a Class IV Planning Board member; appoint Jacob Reider as a Class IV Planning Board member; appoint Ronald Lai as a Class IV Planning Board member; and reappoint Lav Patel as a second alternate Planning Board member.
The council also approved the appointments of Anthony Barone and Devendra Dave as members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Their terms will expire Dec. 31, 2025.
Residents said they were concerned about the Zoning Board appointments due to their professions in real estate and development and wanted to see all zip codes represented on the boards.
Councilman Ajay Patil said technically the council does not have a say in the mayor’s appointments, but he said he respects Joshi’s appointments to the Planning Board.
As for the Zoning Board appointments, Patil said he shared similar sentiments with residents on having “neutral” people “who really care about their neighborhood” on the boards and sent his recommendations to Council President Joseph Coyle.
Councilwoman Margot Harris, who “lives in the belly of the beast” of the proposed Charlie Brown development of townhomes, said while past appointments to the Zoning Board have been “more or less political,” she said Coyle invited her for the interview process, which involved 13 interviews.
“We had a pile of resumes of all qualified people,” she said. “It happened that those two people we chose, those people really stood out. And as you may know, I’m as skeptical or cynical about the developers and Realtors taking over these boards, but Councilman Coyle and I were very convinced. We did a lot of deep questioning about objectivity and how they go about making decisions. We felt very good about the answers we received.”
Harris added they were also impressed by the expertise of Dave and Barone. She noted Dave “does a lot of philanthropy for Edison” and Barone comes with a “wide range of experience.”
She said as for the open positions, she will take Jordan’s points into consideration.
Councilman John Poyner said he spoke to Barone and Dave and shared some of the same concerns as residents.
“During the conversations, some concerns were eased on my end,” he said. “In regard to one of them, he is a Realtor, but in my conversation [with him], he seemed really fair and balanced and the second individual, his knowledge [of the] engineering aspect to things, I feel will be beneficial to the township.”
Brescher said he hears everyone’s sentiments and believes in having the community part of the boards as opposed to people who have other interests. He added he is committed to not adding any more developers or Realtors on the boards.
“We do have professionals,” he said, noting Hank Bignell is the township’s planner. “Their job is to guide the civilians [on the board].”
Brescher abstained from all the appointments except for the reappointment of Soltesz to the Planning Board.