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Jazz Club Proposal Will Move Forward; 'Remand' Not Granted

Matthew Hersh

A use variance granted to the the site formerly home to Mike's Tavern by the Township Zoning Board of Adjustment will move forward as planned, in spite of recent litigation and recent reports that indicated the orginal application would be sent back to the zoning board for review.

Although residents challenging the approval for Mike's Tavern on Bayard Lane to be converted to a jazz club have said that Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg established a settlement Friday that would send the original jazz club application back to the zoning board for reconsideration, zoning board attorney Robert Casey has told Town Topics that the settlement did not occur and the site plan application will continue to move forward through the planning process.

"There is no settlement for remand in any way, shape, or form," Mr. Casey said.

The site plan application, Mr. Casey added, will be modified to provide for onsite parking. The application for off-site parking at Stefanelli's, which had been a point of contention for the neighbors, has been withdrawn, Mr. Casey said.

The jazz club applicant, Hageman Road resident Stephen Distler, was granted a use variance to convert Mikes Tavern into a jazz club. Tentative club plans include 150 bar and dining seats with the building size ranging between 6,000 and 7,000 square feet. Mr. Distler is reportedly working with architect Terence Smith, whose work includes the Triumph Brewery on Nassau Street.

Some residents from either side of Bayard Lane objected to the original ruling, saying residents within 200 feet of Stefanelli's Automotive Garage at 163 Bayard Lane were not notified of the application. Under the original plan, Stefanelli's would have been used as a possible site for parking, even though a Shell Station lies in between the two properties. But that part of the application has since been withdrawn.

At the time of approval, Carlos Rodrigues, chair of the zoning board, said the decision was based solely on the "use" of the site, and not the anticipated impact. Princeton Township's municipal land-use law allows an applicant to appear before the Zoning Board with simply a "use" portion of the application or with an entire site plan.

Also, when Mr. Distler's application was approved, he provided testimony by a traffic engineer, a planner, and Mr. Smith to give the board more specific information on the project.

But residents opposed to the club argued that not all residents, namely those within 200 feet of Stefanelli's, were notified, as required for all applicants seeking a use variance from the zoning board.

David Goodman, a Duffield Place resident and a plaintiff in the suit against the zoning board, had hoped a judge's remand would allow more residents to be involved in the process. The litigation is likely to move forward, however. If the zoning board were to revisit the application, it would occur after the Township holds its annual re-organization meeting where mayor and committee appoint new board members to various municipal entities. Two zoning board members who voted against the jazz club application, Antonio Pirone and Noel Gordon, are both either slated to have their terms renewed or are subject to replacement when their terms expire on December 31. Primary board members, like Mr. Pirone, hold three-year terms. Mr. Gordon, who is an alternate board member who fills in when others are absent, is carrying out a two-year term. Mr. Gordon was involved in the jazz club application vote because Penelope Baskerville, a primary zoning board member and Birch Avenue resident, had to recuse herself from deliberation because of her involvement in the lawsuit. Millard Riggs, who voted in favor of the application, also faces an expiring term.

The application, which had been deemed "complete" by the zoning board after undergoing several internal reviews, now looks as though it will be subject to review once again. At the time of the initial approval in April, Mr. Rodrigues offered a prognosis that now appears relevant: "My guess is that many of these issues will probably resurface."


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