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Green Villagers Sue Town Over Farming Law

Lawsuit contends the ordinance violates the land use element of the Master Plan.

Mayor Nicole Hagner and Attorney Carl Woodward confirmed the township has been served with a lawsuit over the .

The lawsuit cites language from the township's 2006 Master Plan Reexamination Report, which encourages "the continuation of remaining agricultural activity" and the preservation of "agriculture as a way of life in Chatham Township where it exists." According to the suit, the ordinance does neither.

The ordinance, the lawsuit reads in part, "is clearly arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and plainly contrary to the fundamental principles of zoning and Municipal Land Use Law," and "fails to advance the Municipal Land Use Laws [sic] declared purpose of promoting the publich health, safety, morals and general welfare."

Plaintiffs want the ordinance declared void and invalidated. They also seek attorney's fees, costs and expenses from the township.

The lawsuit was served by an unincorporated association of residents of Green Village Road, including Jim and Shirley Honickel, Richard Erich Templin, Chris and Kristen Struening, Michael J. and Nicole O'Connell and Vincent and Thea Bancroft Ziccolella. They are suing both individually and as members of the Citizens Against Ordinance 2012-05, the market garden ordinance.

According to Woodward, the township has 35 days to file an answer with the courts.

Chatham Patch will continue to update this story.

Richard E. Templin June 08, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Dave/Danny/Pedro/Brower/Sullivan/Hagner/Nick Novick or whomever you are pretending to be at this moment: There is no defensiveness on my part. It is absolute disgust that I am displaying. I believe all human beings should be treated with respect. That is why I offered to help Danny out when he yelped poverty and couldn't pay his taxes. That is why I gave Brower an honorable way out. These people aren't honorable, but I showed them respect and grace. At this point, you are all dishonorable human beings that hide behind your BS insults and lies! If anything I said is untrue, sue me! The only person that has been slandered to date is me and the unfortunate thing is that as a public figure I can't sue you you for that crime.
Vinny Z June 08, 2012 at 07:43 PM
John, Perhaps I misunderstood your intent in asking these questions. It's quite simple. Many of us bought houses, with the understanding that we were purchasing a home in a residential neighborhood. The Market Garden Ordinance now allows commercial activity - specifically, commercial farming - on properties just a short distance from where we purchased our homes. Prior to the recent passage of the MG Ordinance, they could not conduct commercial farming operations on these properties (although, there is documentation of efforts to conduct other commercial activities there). Generally, if you want to do something on your property that is not permitted by the current zoning ordinances, you can seek to amend/modify the ordinance, or you can file for a zoning variance. Typically, under the circumstances here, you would expect someone that owns residential property but wants to conduct commercial operations to file for a variance (here, a "D" Variance). Our friends at Green Path and Dan Miller decided not to go that route - and did not have to - because they are quite close to some of the current members of the Town Committee, and were able to convince 3 of the 5 members to change the zoning rules, to allow for their own little project. The benefits of a variance - as far as neighbors are concerned - is that the applicant is required to identify positive criteria and negative criteria to justify the request for the variance. (con'td).
Vinny Z June 08, 2012 at 08:36 PM
That way, you have an objective basis, with relevant facts, to assess the impact of the variance on property values, quality of life, the environment and other factors necessary to make an informed decision. One would hope that our elected officials make decisions on an informed basis, though, my experience here leads me to conclude that some of them do not. The alternative is to pass a zoning ordiance. That is the route we went here. Under the Municipal Land Use Laws, in order to even pass a zoning ordinance, a municipality is required to have a Master Plan. The MP is drafted by the Planning Board, and must be revisited every six years. There are strict requirements for adopting a master plan. See, for example, NJSA 40:55 D-28. The MP must protect public health, safety and promote the general welfare. It needs to take into effect topography, soil conditions, water supply, drainage, flood plain areas, marshes and woodlands. Impact on utilities, traffic, property values, the environment etc. all need to be considered. These are all procedural safeguards, to make sure that zoning and development do not have any unintended negative consequences, and that the benefits are greater than the harm of a change in zoning. A municipality only has the power to zone where the ordinance is substantially consistent with the land use plan element of the master plan. (cont'd)
Vinny Z June 08, 2012 at 08:42 PM
The ordinance in question was not consistent with the master plan. The MP does not provide for the creation of “new” farming properties. Thomas Browne (planning board) was correct when he said the ordinance was substantially inconsistent with the Master Plan. He also correctly noted this ordinance essentially introduces farming into a residential area and that it could transform a residential area into a farming community. Jonathan Cohn also found that PB letter to the committee stating the ordinance was “not inconsistent” with the Master Plan was incorrect. Committeeman Tubbs opined that market gardens should not be allowed as a conditional use. He reasoned that in the absence of overwhelming support for farming by those most affected, the status quo should be maintained. Deputy Mayor Gallop also noted there is not a demand for allowing commercial farming throughout Chatham Township, and the Board of Adjustment process is sufficient for those who do want to farm. All of these concerns were, in my view, well thought out. They were also rejected by the majority. With this being the first issue I have followed this closely, things just don't smell right. The whole process smacked of favoritism, and it seemed to me, that many of our officials approached this matter in a very arbitrary and capricious manner, without any real analysis of the impacts that are likely to occur as a result of new commercial operations in what has been strictly residential for decades.
Vinny Z June 08, 2012 at 08:44 PM
That's at least my understanding. YMMV.

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