ZONING RIDICULOUSNESS & APAC (Perfect Together)

By Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA, PP
AIA-NJ Mega Issue Champion

In 2010, AIANJ will be making a concerted effort on our four Mega Issues. One of the four is what we are calling Zoning Ridiculousness, which our President, Jason Kliwinski, has charged me to champion. In doing so, I am looking for a few good men and/or women of AIANJ to help us in making our point heard that the zoning process in New Jersey is terribly broken, and that we intend to fix it! I already have representatives from AIA Architects League of Northern New Jersey and AIA Newark and Suburban Architects. I am certain that the remaining sections will jump on board soon.

At one time or another as architects, we have all been faced with what we are calling Zoning Ridiculousness. Our members are on the front lines of dealing with New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Regulations and individual zoning ordinances from nearly 600 communities around the State. If one looks at the definitions alone from one community to the next, the differences are enough to drive you crazy.

Our Herculean task will be in getting our points across to the allied professions of Planners and Engineers. We can then move on to the Real Estate professionals, Builders and Attorneys who specialize in managing applicant’s projects before the nearly 1,000 local regulatory boards in the State.

As architects we are charged to protect the health, safety and welfare of the individuals who are the end users of the buildings we design. Why should we not through design control the location, use and occupancy of these structures with the regulated and orderly development of land and land uses? Early in 2009 the International Code Council published the first printing of the International Zoning Code IZC. The entire code is 56 pages long! I believe that this is the document that any and all of our nearly 600 local jurisdictions here in New Jersey should be developing and using for their own.

For nearly eighty (80) years there has been a vision of what our State could and should be. However, we have been immobilized by factors such as conflicting agendas, politics and personalities. Hence, we strive to help all of our communities to develop a vision for a better future and an implementation strategy that will produce results in regard to better land planning and land use.

In this regard the citizens of New Jersey have an absolute need for familiar buildings and spaces to remind them of what their community means to them, be they recent arrivals or long time residents. Old buildings, neighborhoods and landscapes serve as reference points that establish a stable image of our environment and or lives in the places that they work, play and call home.

Building preservation is equally an important component of the conservation of our natural resources. As part of NJ Smart Growth Initiative, there is an absolutely strong case for conserving a structurally sound older building complex and finding sustainable new uses for them and make our “so called downtown places” stronger more viable, thereby extending this through the entire community. Linking one community to the next is something that needs to be accomplished in what should be called a more balanced zoning approach.

In many of our failing cities the infrastructure exists, the transportation systems exist and the people as a potential work force exist. The tie in to our other Mega Issues of Sustainable Design, Value of the Architect and Architect as the Lead Professional together relate to the famous saying “if we build it they will come!” Help us build a zoning ordinance that works by providing a system that will not unnecessarily increase construction costs, keep an open mind to new sustainable materials and/or construction methods.

In attempting to solve the problems, we won’t only be judicious and meticulous in finding out everything we need to know but ultimately let the public and our governing officials understand that we are the go to professionals when it comes to the built environment.

In this regard alone through the opportunities afforded us by APAC we have started to talk about Zoning Ridiculousness with our political leadership. Funding from APAC provided us the opportunity for ‘face time’ at the Trenton Country Club two weeks ago. We had discussions with leaders like Sheila Oliver and Nellie Pou, just to name two. Ms. Oliver directed me to Owen G. Fletcher, Esq. who as Associate General Counsel, would be able to work with us when we have drafted a piece of legislation, that I hope will come out of all our discussions this year or early next. They know that a zoning initiative is needed and needed soon! One representative told me and I quote, “who else but the architects of AIANJ would be best suited to come up with a solution to the numerous problems in regard to zoning here in New Jersey!”

Here too the individual AIANJ member can help. Recently you received an invoice in the mail from APAC requesting a minimum donation. Please respond with at least that amount and if you can a bit more. The APAC arm helps us help you in your practice of our noble profession. We can not do it alone. If you want to help end Zoning Ridiculousness, help us with a check to APAC today. Go to the AIA-NJ website to find out how to give www.aia-nj.org. Remember Zoning Ridiculousness and APAC perfect together!

Thank you!

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Comments

  • Mel Israel  On April 9, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I would be interested in working with you on this issue.

  • Bob Krieger  On April 9, 2010 at 9:27 am

    The last thing we need in NJ is more central planning and control. The zoning approval process is undoubtedly broken in many communities, but the focus should be in improving these on an individual basis and initiative, not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Each community is unique and should reflect the wishes of the local residents.

  • John C. Inglese AIA, PE, LEED AP  On April 9, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Jerry,

    this is monumental task and I applaud you for even considering undertaking it.

    just a thought, wouldn’t it make sense to try to get the NJ chapter of the APA on your side as well.

    also, could there be a somehwat better term to start off with than “ridiculous”. I think it will alienate the planning community who may agree that there needs to be a more unified system but who more or less created the present situation.

    you know me and if you need any assistance, just ask.

  • Paul Tiajoloff, AIA PP  On April 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Jerry,
    Big job ahead. Critical issues of adjacency between towns and neighboring towns’ responsibility to have consideration (and listen to) residents of neighboring towns. Also effects of geography on land use.
    I concur drop the “ridiculous”…it caught my eye but others are more invested.

  • Jeffrey Yao  On April 9, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    It is very important to plan zoning revolution for next twenties years.
    It is also the keystone steps for us to voice for future generation.
    So, the sustainable consideration should be one of the key elements.
    More preserved lands, more sustainable communities (smart urban movement),and
    predestrain friendly w/ high efficient public transportation network thru out Garden state.

  • Ray Heinrich, AIA, APA  On April 9, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Euclid was founded on the principle of class distinctions and keeping pigs out of parlors.
    Neither is appropriate today.
    Now a new version of demanding and dangerous pigs are polluting our atmosphere everywhere.
    So today, we need walkable infill of mixed use conveniences in residential contexts,
    to be governed by agreed emissions standards
    that are acceptable to all five senses at the property lines.

  • Jerome (Jerry) Eben, AIA,PP  On April 11, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Jerry responds:First and foremost I am excited to see that some of us are reading the newsletter!
    Mel: do not know what Section you are from but send me an E-mail and welcome aboard as AIA-NJ will need all the help we can muster on this Mega Issue.
    Bob: I hear you & I like your approach, & want to know your idea(s) I want to start w/definitions in all nearly 600 zoning codes here in NJ. Do you not think that they all should be the same? Example: some towns measure ht. of bldgs. from average grade to middle of the roof & some towns measure ht. from top of curb to ridge line and I could go on w/several other definitions for ht. but would run out of room.
    John & Paul: Ridiculousness was discussed at the AIA-NJ Leadership Conf. and while I hear your concerns I have tried out the name at my local Planning Board where they were discussing the Master Plan and I believe that it went over well. I was at the Newark ZB mtg. and saw ridiculousness in action……….but we won anyway.
    Jeff: I do a lot of planning testimony & use the Master Plans from the communities to drive home what the variances I required to get the project from the boards to construction. Right now my township is reviewing their MP w/an outside consultant. While the firm is a good one that I have worked w/before on another project, they are missing the pulse of the community here. It might be better for local architects and planners to be retained (not do it for free)to complete the Master Plans in their home communities as they understand them best.

    Ray: right on!

    All: AIA/NS will have our Round Table discussion on the Mega Issues on Wed. 4/14 at the Mayfair Farms in West Orange. Hope to see you there for a continued and rewarding discussion!

    Thanks, Jerry
    PS:remember your APAC Donation!

  • Chris Pickell  On April 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Ridiculous it is – keep the name! I am less concerned with standard definitions, and more concerned with overreach, over-regulation, unending delay, costs, and very discouraged clients who are increasingly unwilling to go through the process. We will not have any preservation or sustainability if developers/investors take their money to other states. Who gave the (vision-less) town engineers so much unaccountable power over every detail? Zoning originated to keep factories out of residential areas, now one town wants to tell my clients which trash cans are acceptable, and another wants to measure setbacks to the edge of the gutter. I win variances all the time based on reason and historic precedent, but why does the process have to be so painful?

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