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Leonia residents fight development plan with online petition drive

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CVP: A group of Leonians have mounted an Internet campaign to try and prevent a combined office building/warehouse from going up in a residential zone on Grand Avenue near Fort Lee Road.

Grand Avenue property, office building rendering

“Our original goal was 100 signatures, but we would happily accept more,” Deirdre Mitchell of Spring Street told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

“I sent it to approximately 100 people from various organizations,” Mitchell said, “but many of them are sharing it with their own group of contacts, so we hope to get much greater distribution.”

She was nearly three-quarters of the way there as of late Friday. Mitchell said she intends to present the petition (see below) at the Dec. 19 Mayor and Council meeting in the hopes it wins the residents some legal standing.

It’s a mighty hill to climb. Leonia’s Board of Adjustment last summer approved a commercial use for the site, which connects to tiny Spring Street, in an area bounded by Grand Avenue, the railroad tracks and Fort Lee Road.

The move, Mitchell says, “sets a precedent for future developers and will remove any protection that Borough residents have in preventing commercial buildings from springing up in their neighborhoods.”

According to Councilman Peter Knott, the residents lost an important weapon when a legal appeal of the decision was withdrawn by Bill Zeigler and Susan Boyd, a well-known couple who live in the town’s oldest home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and only a half-block from the proposed development site.

Zeigler and Boyd told council members they had reached an accommodation with the property owner, Sima Development LLC.

Because it’s past the legal deadline to file their own appeal, the residents hope a judge will agree to make them plaintiffs in the withdrawn action.

The site already has some unsightly neighbors, the former Toyota used car facility (vacant about two years now) and the former Dent Wizard (more than five), across from one another at Fort Lee Road and Grand Avenue.

The proposed site is bordered by a small apartment building to the north and a single-family house to the south.


Dear Leonia residents,

Please sign this petition to protect our residential zoning regulations.

We are advised that State and County Law provide that no commercial building shall be constructed in a residential zone unless it is a clear advantage for the entire community such as: a hospital or new school building.

We the undersigned request that in accordance with State and County law, zoning changes be granted solely by referendum by the citizens of Leonia.

We believe that the action taken by the Leonia Board of Adjustment at the BoA meeting of June 2011, granting Sima Development a variance to build an office/warehouse in a residential zone, at 322 Grand Avenue, was improper and counter to the interests of Leonia residents as it profoundly negatively alters the  character of Leonia.

If we permit even one commercial development in a residential zone it sets a precedent that all future applications for commercial development will have to be approved.  It will remove any protection that Borough residents have in preventing commercial buildings from springing up in their neighborhoods.

The claim that this action provides significant  tax relief to residents is wrong. In fact, the estimated savings of a $4 annual saving per taxpayer would be offset by the tax relief from neighboring residents.  

We believe that  zoning changes, increasing  ratables and providing tax relief should be the result of rational community planning.

We request our elected officials, the Leonia Mayor and Council, reverse this harmful Board of Adjustment action immediately.

Thank you for your support.

Deirdre Mitchell
156 Spring St.
Leonia, NJ

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