21 Church Street, Vernon, NJ 07462
August 15, 2022 General Meeting Minutes
Vernon Township Municipal Building, 7 PM
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 PM by Chair Diane Wexler.
Diane read the Statement of Compliance. She then led the Commissioners in the pledge of allegiance and salute to the flag.
Roll call was taken for attendance – present were:
Absent was BONNIE TADRICK
Approval of Minutes, July 18, 2022 Meeting
Peg Distasi made a motion to approve the minutes as presented; Craig seconded the motion. The corrected minutes were approved via unanimous vote.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SESSION (Agenda Items Only)
Diane Wexler opened the meeting to public comments. No-one came forward to discuss any of the agenda items at this time, so Diane closed the meeting to the public.
LAND USE BOARD – LIAISON REPORT
Land Use Board Liaison Craig Williams reported back from the Land Use Board’s August 10th meeting. He said that the board discussed LU #6-22-7, a proposed variance to establish a covered front porch within the front yard setback. The applicant, homeowner Andrew Pilgrim, explained that the home was erroneously built two feet over the mandated setback line, and he either had the option of removing existing stairs to bring the property into compliance or obtaining the variance to build the front porch—the latter of which would give some curb appeal to his home and to the overall neighborhood. According to Craig, once it was established that the project would not be detrimental to the public good, the Land Use Board approved the variance. Craig then wrapped up his report by announcing that LU #6-22-6, the front-yard variance for a proposed single-family dwelling discussed at the July 13th Land Use Board meeting, was approved. He also mentioned that Glenwood Management, LP was awarded an extension of time on their plans for a development project involving Block 521, Lot 10.
APPLICATIONS UNDER REVIEW – Craig Williams said that the Land Use Board will be reviewing a specific redevelopment study & farmland preservation proposal, as well as a pending open space and restoration plan, at its next meeting on September 14th. Peg Distasi noted that the National Scenic Byway was not mentioned as part of the open space restoration plans, and asked Craig whom she should call or email to make sure it is included in the final proposal. Craig provided her with the contact information and suggested she reach out sooner rather than later, as the document is close to being finalized and will likely be approved at the September 14 meeting.
Septic Systems: Peg Distasi began by observing that there has been a lot of social media pushback against the town council about the proposed new regulations requiring regular septic servicing, with homeowners arguing that this provision will result in higher home upkeep costs. She stressed that an intensive educational and public information program will be absolutely essential if the township is going to bring these residents along. Craig Williams concurred, stating that many of these folks don’t understand the cost savings they can ultimately realize, both by regularly servicing their septic systems and by participating in the large group discount program that the mandate would allow and facilitate. He said that he might want to introduce the concept publicly at an upcoming MUA meeting,
Craig then suggested that they may be able to limit the ordinance just to lake communities and other areas where septic pollution is a particularly big problem, but reiterated that the policy should be inclusive and retroactive, since the number of exemptions due to grandfathering would mean their efforts would be undermined from the start. He once again offered West Milford’s ordinance as a general guide and inspiration for their own. Craig said he needs to do a bit more research, specifically into how much the SCMUA is currently charging Vernon to have its septic waste discharged there, before he can determine whether or not the township could do the same job more cheaply for Vernon residents, using local collection points and discounted group servicing. He maintained that two registries – one for residential septic systems and the other for septic servicing companies – will be absolutely critical to making the whole plan work.
Peg Distasi reminded the group that there is still the question of whether or not the SCMUA will even want to cooperate or participate, given that they could lose funds with this kind of arrangement and may even have to go through the legal system to change the agreement with the township. She maintained that the idea is well worth pursuing, however – as lake enrichment in the Vernon area continues to be an intractable problem.
Catherina Sawoszczyk mentioned that another way to get people to accept the ordinance more readily is for the municipality to apply and secure for grant money for the septic servicing project – thus assuring homeowners that there will be an additional pool of money to help offset the upfront costs associated with regular pumping. She said that it might be a good idea for the commissioners to investigate what specific grants are available for these types of programs. Diane Wexler reminded the other commissioners in attendance that the mayor has offered his full and active support for any environmental grant money the group wishes to pursue. Peg Distasi proposed that they need to divide their time between investigating the technical aspects of the project, collecting information from the different municipal authorities and details about potential service providers, establishing an effective campaign to educate stakeholders, and getting information on best practices for the writing of grants and ordinances.
Craig Williams remarked that if we don’t successfully lay groundwork for whatever changes the new program might bring, the initiative will most certainly flounder. Peg Distasi suggested that the commissioners offer, at the very least, to handle the public education side of the matter from an environmental perspective. Catherina Sawoszczyk reminded the group that earlier in the year, while researching watershed issues, she had already gathered some relevant information that might prove helpful. Diane Wexler proposed that they prepare informational materials and make an arrangement with local realtors to hand them out during the home buying process. Peg recommended that they include an application to register the home’s septic system with the township at that time as well.
Peg Distasi concluded this portion of the discussion by suggesting that they send details to the town council and the mayor’s office about their continuing work on developing a township-wide septic system program, as there appears to be duplicate efforts going on concurrently. Diane Wexler offered to start directly sending them the VEC meeting minutes on a regular basis.
Solar Panels/Grants: Peg Distasi mentioned that she recently circulated an article about another northern New Jersey municipality (Wanaque, NJ) that has installed canopy solar panel systems for its school parking facilities, at a projected cost savings of $51,000 per year due to increased energy efficiencies. She said that the name of the installer was mentioned, which could prove helpful since the solar company they previously contacted was not interested in doing canopy installations. Craig Williams agreed to contact the company in question, Green Skies, but cautioned that once again he had come up against JCP&L’s onerous rules and requirements for solar power generation – and this was just for a solar panel array at his home, let alone a larger installation for municipal use.
Diane Wexler said that she has been researching solar installation grants, and noted that NJcleanenergy.com is advertising a grant program specifically for commercial and industrial solar use. Peg Distasi added that the township should seriously consider applying for these grant funds, as they need to meet a mandatory state benchmark on adding alternatives to their energy mix in the next couple of years. Diane concurred, stating that the deadline will be coming up in 2025. She then suggested the commissioners should continue researching relevant grant opportunities, as well as working to identify a grant writer who can successfully complete the funding applications on their behalf.
Silver Spruce Update: Peg Distasi gave a brief overview of where things stand with the Silver Spruce toxic dump situation. She said that the town council just passed a resolution to accept a $100,000 grant to facilitate deep bore testing at the site. Peg also mentioned that the property owner, Joseph Wallace, was supposed to be in court three days earlier to answer a subpoena about this matter, but – unsurprisingly – opted not to show up for his court appearance. She noted that there are arrest warrants out for Mr. Wallace on at least four different counts – all related to noncompliance with court demands – but no further action by the court has been announced as of yet.
NEW BUSINESS – There was no new business to discuss at this time.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION—ANY VERNON ENVIRONMENTAL ITEM
Diane Wexler once again opened the meeting to public comments. No-one came forward to discuss any of the agenda items at this time, so Diane closed the meeting to the public.
COMMISSIONER COMMENTS – There were no commissioner comments at this time.
Diane Wexler reminded the other commissioners that the next meeting will be held on September 19, 2022. Craig Williams then made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Peg Distasi seconded the motion. The commissioners then agreed to adjourn the meeting via unanimous consent.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:59 PM.
Respectfully submitted by Leslie Boen, Recording Secretary.