LONG BRANCH: A stalled oceanfront development project could get back on track if the city council adopts a new zoning ordinance.
The Long Branch Council agreed to send a proposed "split zone" ordinance amendment to the Long Branch Planning Board for review before it can adopted by the governing body.
TDB's proposal to build 11 townhouse-style units along Ocean Avenue hit a snag after Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson ordered that Long Branch Planning Board no longer had jurisdiction over the site plan for the proposal because of an improper decision rendered by the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) on the rezoning of the lots where the project would be located.
Nearby properties Promenade Beach Club and the Seaview Park Condominium Association filed suit against the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2013 stating that it does not have the authority to change the zoning of sites within the city's redevelopment zones, and that the planning board cannot grant site plan approval for a use not permitted in the zones.
The ZBA allowed two lots to be merged into one to create for the landlocked lot, Lot 7, which was initially designated as a beachfront recreational zone, to be merged with the second lot, Lot 4, to create a residential lot.
Lawson's called the ZBA's decision was "contrary to law and fact" and the actions were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" and that the decision must be reversed. He determined that the lot cannot be zoned residential and the lot merger cannot occur.
Lawson stated that the council must adopt an amendment to its redevelopment plan for the lot to be zoned for residential use and that it must remain beachfront recreational in the meantime.
City Redevelopment Attorney Robert Beckelman said during the June 9 Long Branch Council meeting that the proposed ordinance amendment would do just that.
"It reflects what the city held originally and what was overturned by the court, so it's making clear where this would apply and its also making clear that its not an amendment to the redevelopment plan and that it is meant to apply in the redevelopment area," Beckelman said.
Beckelman said the ordinance will help settle the lawsuit, but is also meant to be a "general ordinance" that could apply to future applications.
"It addresses, specifically, the circumstance that was raised in the TDB case but there may be applications in other areas (where zoning would be applicable)," Beckelman said.
Beckelman said the ordinance amendment deals with a circumstance where a property is essentially bisected by a zoning district line, so a portion of the property is for example in a commercial zone and another portion is a residential zone. This expands that where, in the TDB case, they were separate lots under common ownership and if one of the lots was developed, other would have been land-locked.
Councilman John Pallone asked if the adoption of the ordinance amendment would put an end to the litigation. Beckelman said the objectors and the developer have seen the ordinance and that a settlement is in the works.