Despite having held off voting December 17 on an ordinance that would have hindered a developer’s plans to build houses on two properties off Penn Lyle Road, the West Windsor Township Council unanimously voted January 7 to approve the rezoning.
David Zaidi of Jackson hired an attorney on December 17 for the hearing that night on two ordinances that were on the agenda, one of which affected the property he owns. Township officials said both ordinances were called for in the 2002 Master Plans and had been heavily discussed since the Master Plan reexamination was adopted.
The ordinances rename the R-1 residential zone in the township to a new rural-research-conservation, or RR/C, zone and change the R-1A zone to an R-1C zone. The ordinances are just two of a series of ordinances aimed at eventually making all of the 80 percent of residential lots in town conforming.
Zaidi owns the 28-acre Cox property, the site of a former junkyard, and the 22-acre Charydczak property, which is farther north on Penn Lyle Road, both of which fell under the R-1 residential zoning, and which now will fall under the new RR/C zone.
In effect, his planned development of the property, which he said would have been in compliance with the previous zoning, will be hindered because he would no longer be able to build on 1 2/3-acre lots, but rather would be limited to building on 3 1/3-acre lots. On the Charydczak property, the amount of lots on which Zaidi would be able to build houses goes from 12 to six lots.
The ordinances were meant “to bring our zoning code into compliance with the land use patterns,” as laid out in the Master Plan, Township Division of Land Use Manager Sam Surtees said during the December 17 meeting. “Basically about 80 percent of residential properties do not conform with the lot sizes. This would create zoning that coincides with the actual land use patterns in the town.” Township officials said the ordinances were “basically a name change.”
Robert Kasuba, an attorney with Sills, Cummis, and Gross, told council at the December 17 meeting that his client was not properly noticed that his land would be affected. “My client didn’t learn until literally this afternoon that his property was affected, and he came to our office at about 3:30 or 4 p.m.”
Township officials disputed this, saying there were numerous public hearings during the Master Plan process, which ended in 2002, and that the township even sent out courtesy notices to all the property owners affected by the rezoning in the fall, when the matter first came up for introduction — something it wasn’t statutorily required to do, but did anyway. And the rezoning matters have been discussed numerous times at planning and council levels since then, they said.
Still, Kasuba said “my client has ben working to develop these properties in a smart, responsible manner,” and even spent large sums of money - about $2 million, $500,"000 alone to clean up the Cox site — “and was doing that with the expectation of being able to develop a 12-lot subdivision on that property.” And even with that, he said, Zaidi was planning to leave 20 of those 28 acres for open space. Some of the property is impacted by wetlands.
Zaidi also submitted a development application for the Charydczak property, Kasuba said. “My client does want to continue to work with the government body, work with the community with regard to the development of these properties, and he has, in fact, engaged in some discussions about that.”
Said Zaidi: “At this stage, to change it to 3 1/3-acre lots, it will be a great setback for me. My feeling is that I worked in good faith with the township, and I spent a huge sum of money. I cleaned up the junkyard, which was 12,"000 tires and (removed) hundreds of loads of junk.” He also said he had been doing extensive soil and water testing on site. “I was relying upon the good will of the township that I will be able to build a handful of houses.”
Kasuba also filed a statutory protest of the rezoning at the December 17, claiming the township was “spot zoning.” “The only areas that it substantially affects are my client’s properties and some of the surrounding properties around my client.” In addition, he claimed that there are “existing neighborhoods and residences that surround his properties, and it would be spot zoning if you single these properties out.” But township officials said it was not the case because there were tracts of vacant land with similar constraints to the west side of North Post Road and given the size of Zaidi’s tracts, the rezoning was reasonable.
Sam Surtees explained to the council that with regard to the Charydczak property, under the new zoning, “you’re getting four more acres of open space and six less homes.” With regard to the Cox property, there has not been a subdivision application submitted, but he understood that Zaidi was planning to build on 12 lots, he said. “But the staff isn’t convinced that he could get the lots by right because there’s some environmental issues and so forth, so that hasn’t proceeded.”
The council originally held off on voting on the ordinance affecting his properties, after Councilwoman Heidi Kleinman said she wanted more information about the ordinances and about spot zoning before making a decision. Still, council voted January 7 to pass the ordinance.
During the meeting, planning officials recapped the reasons why they thought the ordinances were necessary — including that the two pieces of land were significant connectors to the greenbelt. They also said the timing of the ordinances had nothing to do with Zaidi’s application to the board, but that the ordinances were put on the back burner when officials were working on other projects with higher priorities.
Surtees said he met with Zaidi and his engineer on numerous occasions in the last 18 to 24 months regarding his application to the planning board, and on more than one occasion, told him the township was working to rezone the property.
Council members gave their reasons for voting.
“Going back into early fall, when we had the presentation from the planning professionals with regard to the change of the zoning, we had a lot of questions in which we received the answers,” Councilman George Borek said. “More importantly, we had asked about the statutory requirements about notifying the property owners, and there are no statutory requirements. But the council took it upon themselves to make sure the administration sent out letters to everyone just to let everyone know. That was done back in November. I think everyone here in good faith has gone above and beyond the requirements to make sure that everyone was heard.”
Kleinman said she met with Surtees after the December 17 meeting and gained a fuller understanding of the zoning, and how Zaidi’s properties really “feed into the environmentally sensitive lands.”
“I feel very confident to vote for this as proposed by our professionals,” she said.l not that these are very narrow lands. tie
Councilman Charles Morgan recused himself because his property is near Zaidi’s property.