A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leckstein's Ten Minutes of Fame And Other Disappointments

At the Aberdeen Township Planning Board and Township Council meetings on Monday night, officials told their citizens that Aberdeen was on the precipice of a town planning disaster. Rest assured, they said, members of the board and council are just as upset as anyone else in town about this. It is an utterly regrettable circumstance. But the Commission on Affordable Housing (COAH) has tied our board and council's hands. Nothing can be done except what we've been told to do. After all, it's an ultimatum. (That's Latin for The bully says jump, so jump.) All our actions are procedural at this point, so there's simply no point in such a large crowd getting its undies in a knot over something no one can do anything about anyway.

At this point, Township Planner Richard Coppola put on his best storytime voice, grabbed a microphone and began weaving his version of how we got into the mess we are in and how things will have to go if we are to salvage anything from our soured COAH situation. I put a hand on my wallet, worried that either he or the Mayor was looking to sell me a time share. Didn't I at least get a free breakfast and use of the recreational facilities before I had to sit through their little sales spiel?

Once Coppola had spun his web, Planning Board Attorney Michael Leckstein proceeded to attempt to stifle public discussion. He proposed a ten minute public comment period to hear what was easily a hundred citizens present and waiting to be heard by their municipal officials. But this didn't sit well with the public. They rose from their seats, shouting and motioning at Mr Leckstein and the Mayor. The room went into an uproar. Ever the diplomat, the attorney threatened the crowd with police action. This provoked the crowd still further, causing things to nearly get out of control. I expected things might turn ugly.

But Mayor Fred Tagliarini stepped in and soothed the crowd. He reminded us that we all know him and that he is going to do right by us. I wasn't so sure, but people sat down anyway. The board had thoroughly failed to move this ordinance through the process without a public outcry.

Later, during the Council meeting, Township Attorney Daniel McCarthy provided his personal tour of events in Trenton six weeks earlier and reiterated what seemed to him the logical course of action: submit to COAH's demands or else.

My edited version of The Aberdeen Story: Our Township officials avoided meeting our Mt Laurel low income housing obligations for years and years. In January 2010 they were lulled into thinking that our savior Governor Christie would come into office and abolish the nasty COAH and free us from its bondage. But, lo and behold, after a 90 day waiting period we're back in the fray, worse for wear, even on the hot seat. On 10 March, Mr McCarthy found himself before an angry COAH judge, who was at wits end over our town's endless delays. Aberdeen had no proactive plan to meet its total COAH obligations -- unless you call being poked and prodded and trying to ignore it a plan. The judge settled in favor of local developers who had filed a complaint accusing us of unreasonably blocking construction of affordable housing.  We had until 21 April 2010 to meet our obligations.

So what are the dire consequences if the board and council hadn't yielded to the COAH judge? The story goes that if the township was removed from COAH's protective umbrella -- something that would have happened on Wednesday if the Council hadn't rezoned certain parcels of land on County Road and Route 34 by approving Ordinance 11-2010 -- we would have been vulnerable to builders remedy law suits. We would have totally lost control of planning and zoning matters regarding COAH, so builders would run amok with our town. We'd end up like West Long Branch or Farmingdale! Apparently we wouldn't be able to win against them, like Oceanport in 2006.

During public comments, which took the board a half hour past its scheduled time and the council til 10 pm, resident after resident stood up and asked their representatives to fight COAH and the developers. It's the American Revolution all over again! Let's fight! We're willing to take the risk. But the board and council each refused. The attorneys said it was irresponsible. Greg Cannon suggested it would be a suicide mission to challenge Trenton, sort of like running directly into murderous machine gun fire.

Maybe our municipal leaders were right to shy away from confronting the authorities over COAH? Maybe we have been derelict in our duty to meet affordable housing obligations? And maybe we would have just gotten our heads handed to us and ended up putting other Aberdeen neighborhoods at risk of uncontrolled development? But why should we believe our municipal leaders in such important matters when they tell us they don't know the names of the principals of the development firms they've been dealing with for quite a while now? How could that be? Why should I buy any assurances or guidance they offer?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I was at the meeting it was a mess and we are again getting railroaded into a bad situation in cliffwood. I cant believe the story of oceanpoint, we should have done the same. COAH is destroying our community and it's never going to be the same. I really cant wait to leave cliffwood, NJ, really NJ in general it's getting CRAZY....TAXES,TAXES,TAXES and more TAXES.