BERKELEY – The attorney for a group of shore residents trying to leave the township questioned the motivation of the town’s planner during a recent planning board hearing.
South Seaside Park, located just north of Island Beach State Park, has been trying to de-annex, or leave, Berkeley Township. They have claimed that they are a separate entity from Berkeley, geographically and in other ways. They want to leave town and ostensibly join Seaside Park.
Their attorney, Joseph Michelini, questioned township planner Stanley Slatechka, an employee of T&M Associates.
However, it was that status that Michelini questioned. How could he be the township’s planner, and the planner for the planning board, and give testimony to the planning board during a hearing?
“Is your role different as a planner for the township as opposed to a planner for the board?” Michelini asked.
“No,” Slatechka replied. “That’s not unusual in towns.”
Michelini reworded his questions to dig deeper into the situation. Gregory McGuckin, the planning board’s attorney, said he was “beating a dead horse.”
“I believe it’s a conflict of interest,” Michelini said. “It’s absolutely wrong for your planner to testify on behalf of the township.” He explained that the planner who sat in place of Slatechka, while Slatechka was giving testimony, would never cross-examine his co-worker.
“The planning board is an agency of the township,” Slatechka said. “I’m providing the board with advice and perspective independent of the township.”
Michelini wanted to know who directed Slatechka to testify before the board.
“I was directed initially by the township,” he said. “My presentation was as a planner for the board.” He did not say if there was someone specifically in the township who directed him.
Planning board chairman Bob Winward stepped in to ask Michelini to question Slatechka about planning issues, rather than legal issues, since he is not a legal expert.
Michelini then discussed how several portions of Berkeley had been de-annexed in the past, including: Ocean Gate, Pine Beach, South Toms River, Beachwood, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park.
He also questioned Slatechka about some previous testimony he had given, in which he explained that there are several towns throughout New Jersey that have satellite areas not geographically connected to the main portion. He asked how many of them have to travel through “six or seven” towns to get there. None of them are 16 miles from the center to the island.
McGuckin challenged Michelini on how he got to “six or seven” towns. Michelini said that it’s accurate because people can drive through Seaside Park, Seaside Heights, the Pelican Island section of Berkeley and Toms River, mainland Toms River, South Toms River and Beachwood. He also included Island Heights and Pine Beach since they own parts of Route 37 and Route 9, respectively, which would have to be traveled through.
McGuckin said it doesn’t really count, and it would be easier to take the Garden State Parkway.