HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — An ordinance passed unanimously by the Hamilton Township Committee at its Monday, June 17 meeting was hailed by all members as one that will benefit all township residents as well as those looking to improve or add new commercial development.
That unanimity dissolved that same night when a subsequent related ordinance was introduced that would benefit a local business.
Ordinance 1903-2019 rescinded numerous other ordinances that provided tax exemptions and abatements for specified areas of the township and provided those opportunities township-wide.
The intended purpose of the ordinance is to promote the improvement, rehabilitation and/or construction of residential dwellings, multiple dwellings, commercial structures, industrial structures, and mixed-use structures within designated rehabilitation areas of the township.
The controversy related to proposed ordinance 1906-2019, which would amend ordinance 1897-2019 that created a redevelopment plan for the entirety of the township. That ordinance specified that the mayor and township committee may enter into agreements with developers and/or owners of property that are in areas in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation within the township.
Fred Kneble, the proprietor of Kneble’s Auto Service, was seeking relief to allow him to create five parking spaces to sell used cars on his property on Somers Point-Mays Landing Road. Kneble pointed out that he had twice appeared before the township’s zoning board to get approval to do so beginning in 2012.
When Kneble first appeared before the board, only five members were in attendance. Since five affirmative votes are needed to obtain a use variance, he decided to postpone his hearing. The same situation happened at his next appearance, but he decided to proceed. Four members voted to approve his application, but one voted against it, which meant the application was denied.
“I decided to gamble that I would receive five yes votes because it was costing me many thousands of dollars in professional fees each time I went before the board,” Kneble said.
Committeeman John Kurtz supported Kneble’s application.
“There is no increase in parking spaces, hours of operation, staff or building footprint,” he said.
The governing body voted three to one to introduce the ordinance at the meeting, with Mayor Art Schenker casting the lone negative vote.
“You went before the zoning board and they denied it,” he said. “The intent of the new ordinance is not to change our zoning. We have a planning board and zoning board to make these types of decisions.”
“If we do it once it won’t stop. Instead we should look to change our used car ordinance.”
The ordinance was then scheduled for a public hearing on Monday, Aug. 5. However, at that meeting the committee unanimously voted to table the ordinance.
Fred Kneble’s wife Nancy was upset to see the vote delayed.
“This adopted ordinance was presented to both the township committee and the planning board committee prior to us coming before both committees,” she said. “Both committees approved this ordinance and we thank them for this opportunity as both a business owner and as a resident of this town of Mays Landing. Is it wrong for residents and business owners of the township to want growth? Is it wrong for business owners and residents to go before their elected officials and present their case? Is it wrong for business owners and residents to have avenues for opportunity that their elected officials approved? We are not the first town in the state of New Jersey to adopt new ordinances for our area to succeed and progress. This redevelopment plan for the entirety of the township has been adopted by many other townships in the state.”
Committeeman John Kurtz agreed.
“We have the opportunity to use the site-specific issue to help our businesses,” he said. “By not voting for this it is denying that opportunity.”
Schenker reiterated many of the comments he made at the previous meeting.
“I don’t want to overrule decisions made by our planning and zoning boards,” he said.
Schenker was backed up by numerous members of those boards. Wayne Choyce serves on both boards.
“I support the intent of the redevelopment ordinance,” he said. “However, there needs to be a clear process to follow for applicants.”
Zoning Board member Bruce Strigh agreed.
“You need to move forward quickly with a procedure and criteria for applicants to follow,” he said.
Charles Cain served on Township Committee from 2010 to 2012, is a candidate for that position again this year, and currently serves on the planning board.
“In 2009 the governing body changed a policy where applicants denied by the zoning board could previously appeal to the committee,” he said. “The new policy called for those denied to instead appeal to Superior Court. That was done to eliminate the governing body from making these types of decisions.”