Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Knowlton Looking to Merge Planning and Zoning Boards

The Knowlton Township Committee formally plans to merge Knowlton’s planning board and zoning board of adjustment and form a joint land use board.

An ordinance to make the change was introduced March 13th, and its adoption is expected to be on the April 10th committee meeting agenda along with a public hearing. Knowlton joins a growing list of smaller municipalities that have made the change in the past few years.

During discussions at the February 13th committee meeting, several members had expressed concern that the similar missions of both boards made the process redundant and cumbersome.

Mayor Frank Van Horn added that it is becoming more challenging finding people who can commit the necessary time to the boards, which can require frequent and hours-long meetings when a complex application is before one of the boards.

Members of both boards are appointed by the mayor and committee and are unpaid positions. Most planning and zoning boards have more than nine members each, including alternates.

While the responsibilities of both boards seem similar—basically overseeing how stuff gets built—they do differ in several important ways.

A planning board’s primary responsibilities include reviewing applications for construction—from decks to major subdivisions—that conform to the existing master plan. And the planning board is also responsible for creating and maintaining that master plan. The master plan is the document that essentially is the blueprint for how building and development takes place in a municipality.

Most towns have master plans that reach back decades and are revised from time to time by the planning board to reflect changes in the law, population and other factors.

If your plans do not conform the prevailing master plan and zoning regulations, you would take your case to the board of adjustment. If you wanted to build a mega-warehouse on land zoned for farming, you would bring your plans to the zoning board (of board of adjustment; the two terms are for the same thing) to request a zoning change.

Applications before the zoning board occasionally result in boisterous, even emotional, hearings as the requests can mean big changes to a neighborhood or entire town. The zoning board can reject a proposal as it is under no obligation make a change in existing zoning.

But sometimes things can get dicey. The rejected applicant could go to court claiming an arbitrary decision by the board, and the applicant could find sympathy in the courts, especially if the application involved affordable housing elements.

If a merger of the two boards were to take place, the zoning board would actually be merged into the planning board. The move necessitates reappointment of all members to allot the required trained volunteers for each type of land use case.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.