Fewer applications before the planning board and a dwindling pool of volunteers make it the right time to create a land use board from two existing boards, according to the Jefferson Township council at its November 13 meeting.
Like most municipalities, Jefferson Township long had a planning board and a zoning board of adjustment to handle land use applications of different types. In recent years many towns, faced with dwindling development options, have chosen to combine the boards.
The voters actually approved a referendum to merge the boards in 2009, but the council didn’t act on it.
Mayor Eric Wilsusen suggested the time is right to implement the change and the council voted to do so.
Township Administrator Debra Milikin explained the board of adjustment is down to five members. Since a use variance requires five votes for approval, that number could present a problem. Wilsusen said at least one more member is leaving the board at the end of the year.
Milikin said the new land use board will have nine members and four alternates. The mayor or his designee and a council appointee will serve on that board as they did on the planning board, but they will step aside for two alternates when a use variance comes before the board. The state’s Municipal Land Use Law does not allow elected officials to vote on use variances. Use variances allow a property to be used for something that is not allowed in that zone.
Council president Debi Merz said with the combined board, the mayor will appoint three members and council the rest.
Wilsusen explained that merging the boards will save the township money on attorney and engineering fees.
Changes in fees for such things as construction and public health will be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs before formal action can be taken.
Wilsusen said construction fees have not been increased in 15 years and the construction office runs at a deficit each year. He and Milikin developed a list of fee increases, but they must be run by the state Department of Community Affairs before they can be implemented by the township.
Milikin also proposed some increases in Health Department fees.
Councilwoman Melissa Senatore strenuously objected to a $100 adoption fee for cats from a municipal pound. She said $25 would be fair and adopters can be encouraged to make an additional donation.
Milikin said the suggestion for a $100 fee came from the health department. She said she would discuss the fees with pound volunteers.
The administrator told the council they will receive a request at the next meeting for $50,000 from the township’s affordable housing budget. Habitat for Humanity is building a house in Lake Shawnee. The council will also have to pass a resolution restricting the deed to low- and moderate-income owners.