With about 250 concerned citizens in attendance at Thursday night's town council meeting, the council approved the three controversial ordinances that would rezone the International Crossroads property to be the site of a shopping center.
Though originally the second item on the Council’s agenda, it was moved to open the public hearing on the topic of the three ordinances first.
A motion was made for a non-binding referendum on this issue. A discussion ensued between Council President Roth and township attorney Bottinelli about a provision in NJ statutes that forbids such a referendum.
It was clarified that a non-binding referendum was allowable. However, with a split vote of 3-3, the motion was defeated.
Attorney James Jaworski, representing the developers, presented an overview of the plan. He reiterated how the ordinances offered the “kinds of things you don’t see in traditional ordinances.” He was followed by Dan Disario, who spoke about the traffic study.
After their presentation, township planner Joseph Burgis spoke about his role in helping to craft the ordinances, as well as the planning board’s take on the matter.
The meeting was then open to the public. Council President Roth requested that citizens limited their comments to 2 minutes, and allotted two hours, rather than the normal 30 minutes, for the public to speak.
Mike Richards, who had attended many previous meetings on this subject, began. He pointed out topics that would be repeated over and over again throughout the night, including “noise generated by trucks, decrease in home values,” and traffic concerns.
High School student Graham Starr brought up a few of the other major issues that would dominate the conversations, such as environmental concerns, water pollution and run-off from the site if it were developed into the Ramapo River.
Mahwah was not the only community represented. Citizens from the neighboring towns of Ramapo and Suffern in Rockland County spoke during the public portion of the hearing.
By 11 p.m., 30 speakers had voiced their opinions. But the line to stand before the mic and the town council was still stretching towards the back of the hall.
Fears and concerns about pollution, property value decreases, more traffic, water quality, and the safety of the children of Mahwah dominated the majority of the public speakers’ points.
A large number of high school students were present at the meeting, some out of concern for the future of Mahwah and these ordinances, while some were sophomores from Yvonne Beatrice’s honors history class, and were present for class credit.
As of 11:35 p.m., the 43rd and final speaker addressed the town council.
Council President Roth called for a motion to approve the first of the ordinances, 1684, entitled “Crossroads Town Center Overlay Zone.”
There was a public outcry over this, but each member of the council made a statement prior to the vote. More than once members of the audience shouted out and disrupted them.
Councilman Williams moved the approval. He, Councilmen Larson, Alderisio and Roth voted in favor, while Councilwoman DiGiulio and Councilman Spiech voted against it. The motion passed, 4-2.
Outcries from across the audience were heard, and repeated shouts of “you’re disrupting our lives” and “you aren’t representing us” and “see you in November” carried across the room.
After restoring order in the room, Roth called for a motion to approve Ordinance 1686, entitled “Shopping Center Private Security Requirements”. He reopened the floor to the public, requesting all comments at that time be in relation to this ordinance alone.
While more than 10 people again spoke, they mostly expressed their anger and disappointment in the council’s decision to approve Ordinance 1684.
The vote on Ordinance 1686 was approved 4-2.
Finally, Roth called for a motion to vote on the last ordinance, 1687, entitled “Transportation Improvement District.” Once more, this was approved by the council 4-2.
The anger on behalf of those who were in attendance was expressed often throughout the votes, disrupting the process multiple times. The final ordinance’s approval took place just before 12:30 a.m. Friday morning. The ordinances move on to the Planning Board.