Goodbye Yellowbrook Road Zoning

Industry lives side by side with residential and agricultural on Yellowbrook Road. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  HOWELL – The Township Council unanimously voted down one of the more controversial ordinances put before them, which would have changed the zoning designation for an area along Yellowbrook Road.

  Members of the public from both Farmingdale and Howell came out in force to voice their opinions to township officials regarding the ordinance that would have created a new SED-2 zone south of the Route 33 corridor. Prior to the June 14 public hearing, the town had received a petition in opposition to the ordinance which, by New Jersey State law, would have required a “super majority” of votes from the Council in order to pass the measure.

  The Special Economic Development-2 zone allows offices, banks, healthcare, self-storage, utilities, metal manufacturing, construction, agriculture, recreation, solar fields, microbreweries, craft distilleries, flex space, and health clubs.

  The ordinance had such strong opposition that the township held a special public forum about it prior to the Council’s June 14 meeting in which Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell, Deputy Mayor Pamela Richmond, and attorneys Caitlin Harney and Joseph Clark were in attendance. During that meeting, members of the public aired their concerns and grievances about the proposed ordinances that arose from the changes to the township’s Master Plan.

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  Likely due in large part to the public hearing and the petition, it appeared that the Township Council had clearly made up its mind before the formal vote was ever taken. As the other ordinances were discussed and passed, Mayor Theresa Berger sensed the crowd’s anticipation of the upcoming ordinances.

  “Okay, so I read this list,” joked Mayor Berger as she held up the meeting agenda for the crowd, “so [ordinance] 25 is coming up.”

  “Yeah, I think we’re in the hot stretch here,” remarked Clark. “I noticed that there’s a lot of people interested in [ordinances] 25 and particularly 27. So, maybe to save people time, they’re still welcome to get up and discuss stuff, but you might want to let them know your feelings on, I would say in particular, ordinance number 27, which sort of sets the SED-2 overlay up on Yellowbrook Road. I know that’s been, probably, one of the more controversial ordinances.”

  Wasting no time, the Mayor quickly made her feelings known before the public, the Council, and the township’s professionals, leaving no margin for misunderstanding.

  “So, if I may, I’m voting ‘no’ on this ordinance,” declared Mayor Berger, as the members of the public applauded. She then threw the discussion out to the Council, asking, “Anybody else voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on [ordinance] twenty-seven?”

  While Deputy Mayor Richmond was not in attendance, the other members of the Council each took turns to informally vote against the ordinance.

Yellowbrook Road is a patchwork of mixed uses from residential to industry to agricultural. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  “This is deja vu to me,” said Councilman John Bonevich. “It’s like Groundhog’s Day. I voted ‘no’ in 2020. I would vote ‘no’ again tonight.”

  The petition submitted to the township opposed both ordinance 25 and ordinance 27, as the former set the definition for the zoning area, and the latter specified the area of town which would change. However, given that ordinance 25 did not deal with any particular specified property, it would not be subject to the Council requiring a super majority to pass it, according to Howell Township Director of Land Use, Matt Howard. This point was further clarified by Harney, who affirmed Howard’s assessment of the petition.

  Before the vote by the Council, Township Planner Jennifer Beahm further explained the ordinance to the members of the public, to assuage their concerns about its possible passage. As Beahm explained, ordinance 25 not only governs the Yellowbrook Road section of town, but also other areas of the township near Randolph Road as stipulated in ordinance 26. For that reason, given that it set the parameters for two zoning changes, its passage was not deemed as serious as originally believed by the public.

  “While the governing body had indicated that the overlay on Yellowbrook Road is likely to not be successful,” Beahm explained, “the zoning standards established in this ordinance, 25, affects properties not just there. I just want to make that abundantly clear.”

  “Regardless of what the sentiment is about 27,” said Clark to the Council, “and it appears that it’s going to die an early death, I still think you need to open it up for public hearing on [ordinance] 25.”

  With Beahm’s clarification, ordinance 25 passed unanimously, as did ordinance 26, setting the stage for the public discussion and official vote on ordinance 27.

  Ordinance 25 defines what SED-2 zoning is, while the other ordinances assign that zoning to specific areas. Yellowbrook Road was ordinance 27.

  Concerns aired by the public regarding the Yellowbrook Road area ranged from depletion of open space to increased traffic, particularly truck traffic, through the mixed-use zone. One of the more notable members of the public that was in attendance was Farmingdale Mayor James Daly, who took an opportunity to address Howell’s Council and township professionals.

  “Thank you for number 27,” said Daly in anticipation of the ordinance’s defeat. “That’s going to help us, and it takes a lot of my notes off the table tonight. I don’t believe anybody is really aware of how much truck traffic the new asphalt plants have routed through Farmingdale on Main Street. I understand that the zoning is not changing over in that area. Hopefully, it’s not going to change down the road to affect that, because it does detrimentally affect Farmingdale currently, and opening that up down the road is going to really make it a bigger problem out of Main Street Farmingdale.”

  With the public comment portion of the meeting closed, the Council reached the point where it was ready to make the formal vote on the controversial ordinance, with Mayor Berger calling for a motion.

  “I’d like to make a motion to decline zero twenty-two twenty-seven,” said O’Donnell, punctuating the defeat of the ordinance. With that, the Council moved to its vote in opposition to the ordinance, which was roundly applauded by the attending public.