Millville swears in council members, plans some zoning

The Millville Town Council swore in returning Council Members Robert Gordon and Susan Brewer and newcomer Peter Michel on March 14.

Outgoing councilman Steve Small commended Michel, telling the others, “You will enjoy him. … He suffers fools patiently. I don’t. … He has a cool head at all times. He will be a wonderful member and friend to you.”

From their ranks, the council elected an executive board: Mayor Robert Gordon, Deputy Mayor Steven Maneri (who was absent on March 14), Treasurer Susan Brewer and Secretary Valerie Faden.

The short March meeting also included Millville’s Resolution 17-05, setting a goal of adding 1 percent tree canopy to the town within the next decade. That can improve air quality, stormwater management, shade and wildlife shelter, besides improving Millville’s eligibility for a state tree planting and management grant.

A muddy good time

For his service in helping rescue a hunter and dog stuck in the muddy marshland last autumn, Maneri was the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s honoree at the Joshua M. Freeman Valor Awards last month. The Town gave him a congratulatory gag gift of mud masks, moist towelettes and facial cleanser.

“Since your mud dive, your skin looks 10 years younger, so we got this product for you, so you won’t have to take a mud dive for another 10 years,” the card read.

Beefing up the zoning code

With thousands of more people expected to move into the town in the next few years, Code Enforcement Officer Eric Evans has wanted a building code with more meat on its bones, especially regarding potentially dangerous buildings.

In February, Millville joined the many towns who have adopted the International Property Maintenance Code, which is commonly used for property standards — particularly for Town Code Chapter 54 “Dangerous Buildings” and Chapter 111 “Property Maintenance.”

The change wouldn’t give Evans any more power to enter a property that he believes to be out of compliance. He’d likely still have to show probable cause to convince a judge to issue a warrant. But it is a tool leading to the next step, Evans said.

“We don’t have anything right now. As the town grows, you have to try to prepare for what’s ahead.”

Because fines were changed to $99, that would prevent a property owner from appealing to a higher court.

Maneri asked about a particular property in disrepair behind the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s station. Evans said he’s been working on that for several years, but an updated code could help.

In January, a resident pointed out that the whole area seems to suffer from seemingly abandoned and dilapidated homes. But that’s a concern citizens must take to Sussex County Council, who have their own code-enforcement staff.

It costs money to demolish or clean up a property (especially when asbestos is involved), which can fall on governments to pay or pursue. But Town Manager Debbie Botchie suggested that local fire companies would probably love a practice building to burn. (State regulations have limited the number of controlled burns local fire companies have been able to conduct in recent years.)

Extension granted to townhouses

Also this week, the town council unanimously approved a second three-year extension for the final plans of H&D, a 57-unit townhouse community at Beaver Dam and Substation roads.

Originally approved in 2011, the subdivision got a three-year extension in 2014. Originally, developers said, the market supported such a project — but that didn’t last.

“You can buy single-family [houses] for almost the price of townhouses. … We have no control over the economy,” developer Peter DeMarie said in February.

The neighborhood falls under the old rules that a subdivision plan is null and void after three years, unless substantial construction has commenced. Water and sewer have been engineered on the 11-acre property, but there were no other significant improvements.

If the request was denied, the developers would have to start from scratch with engineering and design. That could have been particularly tough because neighborhoods now require mixed styles of housing, not all one type.

But H&D is the last development in the town moving forward under the old zoning code.

“This development is the last of its kind in Millville, period,” Botchie said. “Our new code doesn’t allow for extensions after two years, and if the developments doesn’t have any substantial construction, that is null and void.”

As a local, DeMarie said he is well aware of the council’s hesitation to repeatedly extend deadlines.

“I respect this council. … I’m saying, ‘Look, guys, we’re under the gun, we’ve got a lot of money in this project,” DeMarie said. “In three years, we’re either gonna develop it or sell it.”

The council’s next workshop, on Tuesday, March 28, at 7 p.m., has a full agenda.