An overflow of residents were at Thursday night’s April 4 Teaneck Board of Adjustment to protest a developer’s proposal for an apartment which sought an unusually high number of zoning variances, and to rail in general against what they saw as hyper-development. There were frequent outbursts of clapping and boos. There was a testy chairman (Jan Meyer) seemingly patronizing who several times whistled loudly to stop noise from the audience, a board member who said he would not recuse himself, and the board’s attorney who made a comment perceived by residents as racist. There was the developer’s lawyer with pursed lips displaying flashes of anger at the protesting residents, and the developer who refused to reveal his name. It was a four-hour ordeal which left residents anxious and frustrated.
To understand a Board of Adjustment, look to Freud’s model of the psyche and how the residents viewed the process. The id (the developer) is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that among other things contains aggressive drives, the super ego (the residents) operates as a moral conscience, and the ego (the Board of Adjustment) is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of of the id and the super ego. Somewhat like a court of law with witnesses sworn to testify honestly and board members as judges.
The proposed apartment development being contested is located at 100 State Street in an already congested area where 12 variances were requested. The zoning there allows for 3 stories (35 feet tall). The proposed project would be 7 stories and 86 feet high. The zoning allows 9 apartment units per acre, but the area is less than one acre and the plan calls for 68 units. Other variances being sought included setback issues, several for parking and driveway locations.
The meeting began at 7:00 PM and after an hour dedicated to another proposal, the review of 100 State Street began. Board member Jerry Barta announced his firm had a business relationship with the developer’s lawyer Wendy Berger, but he would not recuse himself. That was followed by loud boos. Nine residents then took to the podium to disagree indicating that even the perception of a conflict of interest should call for his recusal. Hearing the “voice of the people,” he backed down and recused himself.
With the residents frequently clapping, the board’s attorney Mark Madaio chastised them saying, “This is not a revival meeting.” Residents immediately were shocked and booed loudly viewing the comment as racist as such meetings are most associated with African-Americans. About an hour later he profusely apologized.
The review began with the developer’s attorney Attorney Berger directing questions to the civil engineer in order to further her case for variances. The board members had in hand previously received digital and paper material detailing the exact plans. However, no such material was available on-line or at the hearing to guide the residents. (It could only be viewed by seeking out the Teaneck engineer’s office and viewing it there.) The developer’s engineer during his presentation placed boards on an easel (one seen below) too detailed and in such small print that residents could make little sense of it. Nor did the residents have foreknowledge as to which expert witness consultants would testify at the evening’s event. As a result it was difficult for the audience to understand what exactly what was being discussed and to contest matters intelligently.
At about 9:00 PM the review was temporarily halted for about an hour for “Good and Welfare” where the audience was allowed to voice its concerns. All some twelve speakers expressed opposition to the plan. They spoke out against issues of density, parking, increased pollution, traffic, loss of Teaneck’s suburban feel, safety for school children with six nearby schools, and much more. More broadly they were against a creeping increase in hyper-development throughout the township.
At about 10:00 PM Ms. Berger continued her questions to the engineer to explain why the variances were needed.
At 11:00 PM because of the lateness of the hour, the chair decided to close the session and to continue it at the next Board meeting in May. Residents who had now been there for four hours left extremely frustrated that they were not given time to respond to the presentation of the developer.
As Ms. Berger occasionally consulted an individual in the audience on difficult requests from board members, I talked to the person after the meeting. I asked if he was the developer and he said yes, so I asked him for his name and point-of-view. He would not give me his name. I mentioned I was a reporter and he immediately said he would not speak to me. He also changed his story saying he was not the developer but a member of the leadership group seeking to develop the facility.
From the residents’ view the developer (the id) was rapacious. The attendees (the super ego) were the moral conscience, and the Board (the ego), which often did ask tough questions, was nonetheless insensitive in its procedures. Only a denial of the proposal at the next or a future meeting would likely convince these residents that the board has mediated fairly.
How does your local Board of Adjustment operate?