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Town Council Approves Anti-Mall Ordinance

Developers' site plan under review for completeness; lawyer says may end up in court

At a public hearing Thursday night, the Mahwah town council approved zoning , which repeals the three previously approved ordinances that would allow for a shopping center to be developed on the Crossroads property at the intersection of Routes 17 and 287 in Mahwah.

The decision was met by a standing ovation from the crowd of more than150 residents.

The ordinance, which reverts the parcel back to its former zoning - allowing for offices and hotel space - was moved by Councilman Roy Larsen, and seconded by Councilman John Spiech.

It was approved by a 5-1 vote, with only Councilman Sam Alderisio voting against it.

Councilman Harry Williams was not in attendance due to a professional obligation that was originally supposed to occur Sunday, but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene.

“[Williams] was very upset about this, and wanted people to know why he could not be here,” Council President John Roth said.

Residents at the meeting voiced concerns over the Crossroads Developers', LLC, to the township’s building department Wednesday afternoon. The town council has warned that if the developers submitted before the new ordinance was passed, they would be allowed to build the development under the ordinances in place at the time of submission.

However, it has been the understanding of the township’s administration that the site plan must be legally considered “complete” for Wednesday, August 31 to be the official submission date, Mayor John DaPuzzo said.

Township attorney John Conte said that his understanding of the Mahwah Municipal Code is that “completeness” is required.

The site plan is currently under review for completeness by Mahwah Construction Official Gary Montroy.

The crowd erupted into a passionate debate after comments to the council from Jim Jaworski, attorney for the Crossroads Developers.

Jaworski said he wanted people to understand “what an endeavor it was for us to get this before your planning board.”

He also commented on the “time of submission” rule, saying that a  “completeness review is not part and parcel of what needs to happen.”

“I don’t think it could be any clearer.”

He also commented that since the state law concerning the “time of decision” is “brand, spanking new, we may very well be litigating this.”

Jaworski cut his commentary short after shouts from the crowd asked him “who cares?” and berated him for going over the traditional five-minute time limit allotted to each public commentor at council meetings.

Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio, a mayoral candidate who was ill but attended the meeting to vote in the new ordinance, criticized Jaworski for his comments.

“You have no class, to come in here and threaten these people,” she said to Jaworski.

“I hope we see you in court!”

DiGiulio commented to residents that she checked herself out of the hospital, where she is being treated for pneumonia, to attend the meeting.

Also at the meeting, residents asked Alderisio to explain his continued support for the mall, as all other council members who voted in favor of retail ordinances in March have since changed their votes.

The councilman explained that after years of getting various proposals, the evidence he has been presented with leads him to believe that a retail development on the site would be the best use of the space. He expressed concern for what else might be developed there if the mall does not go through.

“I can guarantee you he’s not going to put a golf course there,” he said.

“I respect your opinions,” he told residents, “but I have a different one.”

Resident Gary Paton, a former Mahwah Councilman, said he thinks the best option for the space would be a large computer technology center, not unlike the New York Stock Exchange development on Macarthur Blvd.

Paton said the site has the necessary communication links, accessibility and other considerations for such a development.

“The developer would be able to make just as much money from something like that [as he would] from retail,” he said.

“And, it would attract high tech workers to the township.”

Though many others joined him in making other suggestions for the space, its fate is now waiting on the in-progress completeness review, and the developers’ and township’s actions in response to it.

M. Mahwah September 02, 2011 at 01:14 PM
It's a sad day in local government. I hope the developer wins. Does anyone realize the cost involved with a court case? Instead of producing revenue for the town, we just continued a huge drain on it.
Phyllis A. Stewart September 02, 2011 at 01:44 PM
And whose fault is that? The Mahwah council should have listened to the people back on Mar. 31st!
Q September 02, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Mr. Jaworski, grabbed the microphone first, to deliver his intimidation threats to citizens and council. We heard him clearly, and not a minute too soon. It is now transparent the developer's representative has come out of the closet and bared their teeth with threats against the township’s civil, legal and moral processes. Jaworski clearly demonstrated no interest in addressing concerns and openly displayed their sole purpose has nothing to do with public good, only their good. It is obvious what their intentions are for our township. I have regained faith in our council to support the citizens. I hope the council will not go it alone, and utilize the citizens as part of their team. As this issue evolves our council is demonstrating they are in sync with their citizens and will not be intimidated by one persons bulling and threats. Bring it on!
M. Mahwah September 02, 2011 at 01:56 PM
The people should have been correctly motivated before the original ordinances.
R James September 02, 2011 at 03:12 PM
I initially opposed the development but am now having second thoughts. Something will eventually be done with that property - the only question is what. I'm not sure that the developer's plans are that bad given the potential alternatives.
Hank September 02, 2011 at 03:23 PM
I think we should move the Pilot over there
fred stedtler September 02, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Between now and the referendum we have time to understand the options and impacts and make up our minds based on facts not fear. We all need to stay engaged today and in the future.
LHart September 02, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Great idea. Just say no to Sunoco.
Average Joe September 02, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Do you think the council has not debated and discussed and sifted through all the facts ad nauseum before they approved it?
Andy Schmidt September 02, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Well to be fair. No matter how you feel abut the project, the developer got jerked around by the township. Once they followed all the procedures to obtain a change in the zoning, worked with the planning board/council to alter plans several times throughout the last year to accomodate concerns, and the council adopted the original ordinances - they certainly had all reason to believe that the project was a go and to start investing into additional work to present a plan. Any business owner - or individual - suffering that kind of back and forth would be expected to hold the town responsible for the mess it created - and for the applicant's expenses. I can't see any fault in that - you yourself would do that if there was a "breach of contract" for any other kind of service.
Andy Schmidt September 02, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Sure, the problem is that residents didn't pay attention throughout the year until it was too late. But I fault certain council members for the legal expense the town will no face: I DO respect Mr. Alderisio and Mrs. DiGiulio for sticking to their respective, opposite opinions they formed after having looked at those facts for a long time. Mr. Alderiso thinks it's the best for the township, and Mrs. DiGiulio was not comfortable voting for the zoning change, but supported a referendum to gauge the resident's majority viewpoint. That's fair enough. The fault for this mess lies exactly with those officials who first voted FOR the zoning change THEN and voted/speak AGAINST it NOW (the ones now being applauded). If those current/former council members were so quick to change their supposedly well-researched assessment of the value of this project for the town, just to flip-flop their opinion based on public perception, then they SHOULD have voted against it UNTIL the results of the referendum were in. By hastily voting FOR the mall first and now voting AGAINST it, they will cost each and every of us in our share of legal fees. They don't deserve their post - because they either slept at the wheel THEN, or are are voting against the towns best interest now - in EITHER case they are NOT doing their jobs.
Andy Schmidt September 02, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Average Joe>> Do you think the council has not debated and discussed and sifted through all the facts ad nauseum before they approved it? << Apparently most did NOT. How else can certain officials FIRST vote FOR the mall because supposedly they had decided that it was the best for the township, then be caught off-guard by the public outcry, and NOW vote AGAINST it? If the facts were the facts, their assessment of the value for the township would not have changed in 3 weeks? What's really insulting is that some officials felt that their opinion was not being effected by public opinion and either outright voted AGAINST the referendum (or voted for the zoning change instead of waiting for the outcome of a referendum) -- and SUDDENLY NOW they feel the need to seek public input? These officials who flip-flopped back and forth are the ones that exposed Mahwah to legal liabilities! They deserve NOT to be celebrated - they failed their responsibility to either come up with a final decision they were committed to stand up for and defend, or postpone a decision until they were ready.
Average Joe September 02, 2011 at 10:33 PM
I don't understand Andy, are you now mad that they voted to put it to referendum?? Are you saying you wish they had not?? Seems the council is wrong no matter which way they vote.
Andy Schmidt September 02, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Nope - not "mad" that they put it to referendum - it doesn't matter how you feel about the mall. I'm mad that my money is being spent defending lawsuits. No, not the entire council is "wrong" - just those who got us into this in-and-out mess where we're now being sued from EVERY side (and understandably so). The council members that originally had voted AGAINST the referendum and/or had originally voted FOR the zoning change, effectively stated with their votes that they had all information they needed to make a binding decision of what's best for the town DESPITE opposition against it. NO new facts have been raised - but, after a major outcry (and with that the possibility of a voter backlash) THOSE same officials SUDDENLY pretend that they DO care about voter sentiment after all and vote for the referendum, and to rescind the zoning change? What does that tell you about those officials who flip-flopped: a) the first time around they did NOT vote in the best interest of the town (otherwise, it would be unconscionable to reverse it, b) they only acted as if the facts were clear and public input was not needed until they realized that the opposition was not going away - and that they might not retain their seats. I'm mad about those people being opportunists and wasting tax money on legal fees trying defend what has now become an undefensible position - because changing tune within a month without new facts is the perfect defiintion of acting "capriciously".
Steven Sbarra September 03, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Andy, you make some excellent points. On the Crossroads issue the fact of the matter remains that if the council would have tabled the ordinance change and sent the issue to a non binding referendum in November on March 31, all of this could have be avoided. Now regardless of the overall outcome, lawsuits will have to be defended and at what cost to the taxpayers?
Kevin September 03, 2011 at 03:51 PM
The bottom line is this all could have been avoided on March 31 if the council just listened to the hundreds of residents who showed up at the meeting. There was the out cry, four members felt we were not worth listening to. It was a dog and pony show and they had their minds set regardless of what we said and that is upsetting to me. As far as flip flopping lets be real if this was not an election year with the top seat up for grabs the March 31 vote would have stayed. Why did it take more then the March 31 meeting to show we cared about the way they were going to vote? Not being in touch with the residents is what I point too. They did the right thing but they had to be pressured to do so. That is not the type of people I want running my town of Mahwah. You are not always going to make everyone happy here but we will always respect the process win or lose if it is done the right way.
Q September 03, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Kevin- you are exactly right. This is the most regrettable issue we face. We have to stay involved and start fixing it locally and move up the chain to get to the national representatives as well.
John Camlic September 03, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Andy, there was a core group that has been fighting this since it came up a few years ago. The problem is, the general public was not aware of what was about was about to happen to their town. But they DID find out in time, however, they were ignored by the majority of the council at the March meeting, and the rezoning was passed DESPITE what the people wanted,
John Camlic September 03, 2011 at 05:32 PM
And, the bad alternatives should be rejected... just like the mall should be rejected. The best use of the land would be a Stryker type office space, where people have staggered work hours, or a project like the computer servers on McArthur Blvd, where there are just a hand full of workers there.

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