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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.

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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