Ordinance 2518: Development Review Committee

In an effort to make the process for those wishing to set up businesses in the borough, a recommendation made by the borough’s zoning officer Richard Belluscio to establish a Development Review Committee (DRC) is set for a vote by council as Ordinance 2518 at the April 19th Mayor & Council meeting.

The ordinance was introduced at the March 15th municipal meeting but had to be reviewed and approved by the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB). That board reviewed the bill with board president Loren Harms voicing concern with regard to certain wording and intent of the ordinance. In particular, Mr. Harms was worried that if the DRC makes decisions on applications then the MLUB might become nothing more than a rubber stamp board since most of the decisions on an application would already be addressed and the matter would be a ‘done deal’. He was told by both Council-At-Large Joseph DeIorio and MLUB attorney Mohamed Jalloh both stating that the recommendations – not decisions – made by the DRC would be on the technical aspects of an application, not the interpretive aspect of the MLUB’s decision. Additionally, Councilman DeIorio stated that the DRC should give the board more prupsoe since most of the technical aspects would already be addressed by profiessionals, leaving the final interpretation and design up to the MLUB. Mr. Jalloh added that having a DRC might help in any legal rulings since comments from the DRC would be made by professionals who are experts in their respective fields.

MLUB Member John Kennedy asked if an applicaiton is denied, does the matter go back to the DRC or the MLUB. These and other questions rpompted a discussion on shoring up the wording of the ordinance to remove any loopholes, as stated by MLUB President Harms.

Recommendations from the MLUB were written down by Council-At-Large DeIorio to bring up at the April 19th municipal meeting.

At the February 15th Mayor & Council meeting, Mr. Belluscio explained his proposal to the governing body. The DRC would consist of borough department representatives from police, fire, engineer, construction, zoning, and – typically – a member of the land use board or someone designated by the development coordinator who would be the point person for the committee.

He stated, “A Development Review Committee reviews board applications and what they do is they’re not a mini-planning board or a mini zoning board. We review applications for technical completeness . . . The applicant comes in and we review the application for completeness. They put on a mini-presentation about what their project will be.”

After the presentation, each member would make comments and ask questions as to the application(s) before them. Offering an example Mr. Belluscio said, “So you may have the fire official who may have an issue with the fire lanes and maybe would like to see an increased size in the fire lane for some particular reason. The recommendations out of the DRC are non-binding recommendations but we do pen a report to the board so the board is not surprised by something that may come up at the hearing.”

Each member could write their own separate report or one report that would include all members’ comments would be submitted to the MLUB.

“I am recommending it because it does vet out the applications,” continued Mr. Belluscio, “The application process becomes much smoother. Generally, the applicants do like the process because it reduces surprises . . . I can tell you I’ve been doing this for many years, I’ve done this in many towns, it is absolutely very professional process, it’s what the applicants really do appreciate.”

Borough attorney Richard Huxford, who has had experience with DRCs in his private practice added more insight, stating, “It does streamline the process for the applicants. It lets them know what the concerns are or what the towns may have in terms of the different departments and they can address it when they go before the board. It really makes things run a lot smoother in terms of the applicants and also for the board. I know the board members have always said that they appreciate knowing going in what the issues are, what the professionals’ issues are and then the applicants themselves, they know what the concerns are. They can do their best to address it by bringing in experts or focusing on those issues.”

“I think we should move it. We should move forward with it,” said Mayor Carl Hokanson.

Council-At-Large DeIorio added that DRC meeting would be open to the public.

“That is correct,” stated Mr. Belluscio, “This is an Open Public Meeting . . . When I run a [DRC] meeting, the door’s always open.”

Although stated by both the councilman and the zoning officer, no such reference or citation to DRC meetings being open to the public and adhering to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) are included in the ordinance.

In closing, Mr. Belluscio told the governing body to keep in mind that the DRC is to remain a technical review committee, not a planning board, and should only address technical aspects of an application.

The idea of a DRC is one that would be beneficial to not only the land use board and the govenring body but residents as well. With that stated, the ordinance lacks detail as to the logistics. That should be considered either now or very soon before the DRC becomes a game of catch-up. A review of other municipalities’ DRC ordinance would help in seeing what is needed in order to have the review committee be strong from its inception. As a comparison, Cranbury a few years ago passed a 12-page ordinance in which it addressed many aspects of the responsbilities, authority, and protocol of a DRC (link).

The public hearing for Ordinance 2518 is scheduled during the April 19th municipal meeting which is set to start at 7 p.m. in the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.

A copy of RP Ordinance 2518 is included below:

Download RP Ordinance 2518