Keith Kaplan and Jim Dunleavy: Updating Teaneck’s Code to Eliminate Hassles to Residents & Businesses

This past year, Keith Kaplan successfully petitioned the Township Council to change two of Teaneck’s ordinances to eliminate hassles & keep more money in the pockets of residents / business owners.

The word “Teaneck” ran afoul of Teaneck’s sign ordinance. The owner filed an appeal to the Planning Board.

We can’t be certain what the drafters of Teaneck’s sign ordinance had in mind when they updated the Town code in the 1950’s.  But in 2018, the advertising statute1 is being construed to prohibit the word “Teaneck” from being permitted on signage.

We have a problem.  And it’s a problem that residents and businesses alike face on a daily basis.  Our code probably made sense once upon a time, but every decision by a clerk added a bit, altering how it functioned.  And eventually, that become “the way it’s always been done”.

We need need to start a comprehensive review of our code to make sure the underlying rationale for the rules proposed is evaluated and considered in light of the reality of today.  And we need to reconsider many of the ways our code operates, which serve to burden residents without a reasonable basis.

Over the years Keith has worked on the planning board, he has focused on achieving results to benefit residents.  But it is not enough.  Teaneck need a council that prioritizes this effort.  Jim and Keith believe this is essential to meeting the needs of the community, our business sectors and most importantly, their civic responsibility to Teaneck.

Elimination Of Surveys To Obtain Building Department Permits For Home Repairs

Sometime in the 1930’s when many of our homes were built, a walkway was put in to connect houses to the sidewalk.  When Keith’s started to crack in 2017, the building department informed him that the Township required a survey of the property, in order to issue a permit allowing him to repair or replace his walkway.  Contractors put the cost at approximately $750 – $1,000 beyond the cost of the actual project.

Keith is far from the only household to face this issue.  He heard from a grandmother, who sat sweltering through a summer heat wave – all because she didn’t have the “extra money” to hand over to a surveyor.  Even though she was able to pay to get her AC unit fixed, she was thwarted by the survey requirement.

If you are perplexed as to why you should need shell out your hard earned money to a professional surveyor in order to merely replace the slab your AC unit sits on, you are not alone.

So Keith asked.  He checked with the building department, the manager and everyone involved in the process.

The way Keith approached this issue was the way he approaches all issues2:

  1.  What are the rules?  If you want to know how to address any issue, you need to understand the current framework of laws & rules and why they were put in place.
  2. What is the proper role of government in this sphere?
  3. What changes should be proposed for discussion?

Getting Answers

It turns out that requiring every resident to submit a land survey didn’t serve a reasonable purpose.  It was initiated as a means to ensure that other work on a property, which may not have been permitted, could be discovered.  The survey rule had nothing to do with the current repair or replacement of a previously permitted structure on your property.

Armed with this information, Keith moved the Planning Board to request elimination of the survey requirement for repairs and replacements of structures.  He also petitioned council members to remove the requirement from our code.

The council enacted the ordinance and today, there is no longer a requirement to obtain a land survey to replace the walkway (or any other structural repair / replacement) in your home, saving residents the hassle and fees for many upgrades to their properties.

Elimination Of Uniformity Requirements In Our Business Code

As previously written about here, for decades Teaneck required businesses to have signs that were “uniform” with other businesses located in surrounding buildings.

At the time, Teaneck’s Code Sec. 33-18(c)(5)(e)(6) read:

Uniformity. Business signs for each occupant in a building with multiple occupancies shall be uniform and compatible in height, placement and design and to the extent possible color and letter font type.

Examples of signs which required appeals to the Planning Board ONLY because of the uniformity requirement.

The idea was to make sure we don’t have signs that are a blight. Sadly, the way this rule was interpreted year after year, led to the direct result that businesses chose other places, with more reasonable rules, to open.  Those that did open in Teaneck, found that merely wanting a color that didn’t appear on a neighboring business sign or a height proportional to their building required an appeal (with a fee) to request a waiver.  The sign makers, legal counsel or other representatives (for more fees) showed up to planning board meetings to argue the need for an alternate color or size lettering.  And how many of the signs, snagged for “uniformity” by our building department, have been denied?

(I have not been able to find a single one going back nearly a decade. Nor do other comparable towns have such a requirement.  If you can find examples, please let me know.)

Keith worked with all those involved in the process.  Once he had the Township Building Department staff (including the zoning officer who denies the permits based on uniformity) on board, the building department’s zoning officer endorsed the request to remove the requirement from our ordinance — followed by the unanimous vote of the planning board to request the Township Council do so.

And on September 5th of last year, after the zoning sub-committee also assented to the endorsement to remove uniformity from the code, the council passed an ordinance removing this requirement.

The results are good, but far more needs to be done.  With your help, Jim and Keith hope to be in a position to effect these changes.  That’s why we need you to vote on May 8th to put Keith Kaplan and Jim Dunleavy on the Township Council.

We pledge to go through our code (and if you find an ordinance that seems outmoded or irrelevant, please bring it to our attention) to eliminate hassles and keep more money in the pockets of residents / business owners.

Keith Kaplan and Jim Dunleavy

  1. Teaneck’s advertising ordinance [33-18(c)(5)(d)(2)] states:
  2. A business sign or signs shall be used for the following purposes only:
    (2) To identify the trade, business, industry or profession being conducted on the premises. Logo identification, which is used to advertise a national product, such as “Coca Cola” or “We sell Kodak Film,” shall not be deemed to be a permitted purpose. Personal logos, not used to advertise a product, are permissible.
  3. In the back of my mind whenever I ask to remove or alter a statute or ordinance that we have on the books is the parable of Chesterton’s Fence.  The ordinance was created for a reason, after all.  And unless one understands the history and background, removing it may make you understand that the alternative to bad can sometimes be worse.  This wasn’t something taken lightly.If you’re not familiar with the story of Lord Chesterton’s Fence, I suggest you give it a read.  Often attributed to JFK, the original comes from here:In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Keith Kaplan and Jim Dunleavy: A New Vision For Smarter Development

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