The Millville Town Council at its Tuesday, Dec. 11, regular meeting moved a bit closer to bringing back a five-member planning commission, after three years with a smaller planning committee.
The Town made the move to a smaller committee on Dec. 8, 2015, because of issues with having enough members attend meetings to meet quorum requirements and filling all the positions.
Since 2015, the Town has had a three-person Planning & Zoning Committee made up of the town manager, the town code and building official, and a town council member — currently Debbie Botchie, Eric Evans and Peter Michel, respectively.
Botchie, who was absent from the Dec. 11 meeting, told the Coastal Point recently that she has been working on bringing back the five-person board, and the council had discussed it at its Nov. 27 work session.
Botchie said she is “very excited” to bring back the full planning and zoning commission.
“We do have so many more residents” now, she said, and there are “so many things in the pipeline,” that will need to be reviewed. She said she is confident five members can be found. “We do have great residents,” Botchie said.
The proposed ordinance regarding the planning commission calls for five members to be appointed on a staggered schedule, with all five members ultimately serving three-year terms. At the beginning, some of the terms will be shorter so that the terms can be staggered, thus allowing for continuity and preventing the possibility of an entirely new commission facing an issue anew that has already been dealt with by a previous, different commission.
During the meeting, Town Solicitor Seth Thompson explained that the planning commission has four basic roles: reviewing and updating the Town’s comprehensive plan; zoning changes; reviewing site plans for new development; and reviewing subdivision plans.
“It’s largely a recommending body, a set of eyes that looks at something and makes recommendations to the council,” Thompson said.
The requirements to be a member of the rebooted planning commission are: being 21 or older, being a full-time Millville resident and having “an interest in urban and rural planning and development,” he said.
Council Member Ronald Belinko said he thought a two-year-term might be “more attractive” to potential members, but Thompson said, “It’s not a conscription,” adding that he doesn’t think a three-year commitment would cause anyone to “move out of town, rather than filling out their term.”
Belinko also emphasized that the town council will choose the members of the planning commission with an eye to making sure “we have representation throughout the entire town,” not just from one or two developments.
Although there is no salary for planning commission members, they would be reimbursed for any travel expenses.
Town resident and former town council member Valerie Faden expressed concerns about provisions in the proposed ordinance that would allow town staff to fill in for absent planning commission members.
“I feel that the staff already provides significant input to the commission,” she said, adding that she felt the provision “does not reach the desire of the council to engage more people in the commission.”
Thompson said that, for there to be a situation where the town staff would make up the majority of the board, four members of the commission would have to be absent. Faden responded that, in such a case, the Town should “operate just like any other business,” and “if there is not a quorum, cancel the meeting.”
Faden said she would be willing to serve on the commission and would also be happy to help the town recruit members.
In order to address the concerns about the alternative-members clause, Thompson said he would revise the proposed ordinance, and it will be back on the council’s agenda for the Jan. 8 council meeting.
In other business from the Dec. 11 meeting, the council heard concerns from residents regarding the maintenance of flood-relief channels — more commonly known as tax ditches.
Karl Beers of the Coventry development said there is a home near him where the ditch often floods and water approaches the home itself. He said the ditches are often used as dumping grounds, which creates a safety hazard and prevents the ditches from draining.
“If you walk the ditches, it’s scary what’s in them,” he said, adding that large items, such as mattresses, are often found in them. Speaking of a particular ditch in the town, Beers said, “There are trees growing in that ditch that you could climb.”
Beers questioned whether the fees residents pay toward maintenance of the ditches — often only a few dollars a year — are enough to fund proper maintenance. Collection of the fees, overseen by tax-ditch associations, are “somewhat haphazard,” Beers said.
“With more and more development, those ditches are going to be overwhelmed,” he said.
Thompson said the Town does not regulate tax ditches and suggested that the Sussex County Council and the Sussex Conservation District would be the body to which concerns should be expressed.
Pat Moulder of Millville By the Sea said she has lost 5 feet of her property because of erosion by a ditch at the edge of her property. She suggested that developers be held responsible for maintenance of ditches within a subdivision.
The next regular town council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, at 7 p.m.
By Kerin Magill