On Monday, April 11, the South Orange Board of Trustees is scheduled to hold a hearing and vote on a plan to redevelop a portion of the Orange Lawn Tennis Club and rezone the remainder of the property.
The ordinance — #2016-08 Approving the Orange Lawn Redevelopment Plan for Block 1304, Lot 6 — would allow Orange Lawn to sell off five of its 16 acres, enabling a developer to build 22 town homes on the detached parcel, and would rezone the remaining 11 acres at 4.4 units per acre (a reduction in zoning density from the currently allowed 6.6 units per acre).
On April 4, the South Orange Planning Board ruled that the plan conformed with the South Orange Master Plan after more than two hours of hearings and discussion. (Watch the full meeting here).
However, a planner hired by neighbors of Orange Lawn argued that the plan was not consistent with the Master Plan in that it introduced a pattern and density of housing not consistent with the surrounding neighborhood, among other reasons (read the full report below).
At the March 28 Board of Trustees meeting, Village President Sheena Collum said that, unlike other proposed development projects in town, South Orange Village has limited power when it comes to the potential development of Orange Lawn Tennis Club because, should the club close down and sell its entire 16-acre parcel, it could be developed “as of right” with the current zoning for 105 units of housing — possibly multi-story — without the need for a variance.
(Read coverage of the Orange Lawn discussion at the March 28 Board of Trustees meeting here.)
At the April 4 Planning Board meeting, Village Administrator Barry Lewis said that the Village was also constrained by the “time of application” rule passed by the New Jersey legislature in 2011, which mandates that once any development application has been made, it is then protected under whatever zoning exists at that time — meaning that a town cannot change zoning to block a project.
Also at the April 4 meeting, Peter Shapiro, secretary of the Board of the Orange Lawn Tennis Club, argued that “without the partial sale, the club is left only with the alternative of shutting down and selling all of its 16 acres for development.” Shapiro described the club’s historic worth to the community saying that it was founded in 1880, was one of the few grass court clubs left in the country, and listed names of tennis greats who have played there, from McEnroe to Navratilova.
Shapiro explained that the club had taken on debt on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis to expand its catering facilities and continues to lose money due to this debt. He said that the land sale would allow the club to pay off most or all of its debt and preserve the club for years to come.
Neighbors who spoke at the Planning Board meeting expressed opposition to the project, although some noted they did want to see the club survive. One called the process of the development’s approval “opaque”; another called it “an overwhelming experience.” One neighbor, Zev Scheri, said that “over 40% of the neighbors had signed a petition saying they believe the plan is inconsistent with the master plan.”
Planning Board Chair Harold Colton-Max at one point asked South Orange Village Planner Phil Abramson to clarify what zoning was in question, noting that many public speakers were invoking the RA-100 zoning for the surrounding area. Abramson granted that “the residents are making great points”; however, he said that RA-100 “is the surrounding zone” and that the town specifically rezoned Orange Lawn as PRCB “which is a much higher density” back in the 1990s.
“That decision has been made and has been legislated and has been the law in the township for 20 plus years,” said Abramson. “The decision tonight is not whether it is consistent with the surrounding zone but with the Master Plan.”
Planning Board members discussed issues around the Master Plan which is currently undergoing review and rewriting. Trustee and Planning Board member Mark Rosner noted that some elements of the Master Plan had already been redone and other parts still needed to be “cleaned up.” Rosner also noted that the rezoning of the Orange Lawn site in 1992 was a reaction to the state’s mandates around affordable housing.
“If it were a year from now and we had adopted a new Master Plan, we would consider it on that basis at that time,” said Colton-Max. However, he said, “we have to deal with the Master Plan at hand.”
“I look up and down my street and there is nothing like this … but the Master Plan, which is the governing document, pretty clearly identifies what this is and what is in it.”