Residents finally get help, raise questions about zoning officials

ROSELLE PARK — Residents living in the area of West Clay Avenue are exercising their right of free speech after a business that clearly is not in compliance with zoning laws continues to operate.

Finding a parking space in the evening on West Clay Avenue, Russell Street or other streets in the area has become quite a chore since Easy Fitness with Jeannie, 293 West Clay Ave., opened up in November.

Residents said even though the owner applied for a certificate of occupancy for a business that offered “health, nutrition counseling and services,” it actually has Zumba and other fitness classes, which is not permitted in that particular zone.

Prior to Easy Fitness with Jeannie moving in, the site was leased by a state agency providing programs for adults with autism. To say things changed radically would be an understatement, said one resident of Russell Street who preferred their name not be used.

Among the problems at issue is the fact the state agency operated Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with no weekend hours, while the fitness center is open Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 to noon.

Parking also is a major problem since the fitness center is operating in the evening hours and on weekends. Although the previous tenants had only 8 to 10 vehicles entering the area, now there are 20 cars an hour looking for parking spaces in the evening and weekends because there are not enough spaces adjacent to the business.

But that’s not the only problem. Loud music coming from the fitness center during hourly Zumba classes is disturbing the peace of a neighborhood that usually only has to contend with noise from a banquet hall and music shop that also operate within a one block area.
Residents said they are well aware that living in an area zoned for certain types of businesses could present noise and parking problems, which is acceptable. What is not acceptable, they added, is a business that opens up under the guise of another while the borough turns the other cheek.

Not that those objecting did not try to address the problem themselves. They have, countless times, with officials. Even going as far as imploring the borough council and Mayor Joseph Accardi to intercede on their behalf.

A petition signed by 80 residents of the area was given to the mayor and council on Nov. 1, 2012 by residents of the fourth ward, which briefly explained what had transpired. Included, they said, was the fact they believed the applicant “falsified” her application in order to avoid going before the zoning board for a change of use.

Residents explained that when the operator of the business, Regina Mendes Doman of Union, applied to the borough for a certificate of occupancy for the business, the fact she listed her business as health and nutrition counseling and services was an attempt to deceive local code enforcement officials.

Also a problem, they said, was the site does not have adequate parking, which would require a zoning variance to be in compliance.
So, after months of frustration and getting no where, they began requesting public documents using the Open Public Records Act to substantiate their claims and discovered they were right. Getting someone to listen to them at town hall, though, has not been as easy.

Eventually, however, after filing additional OPRA requests for documents on Feb. 11, a zoning official finally issued a summons Feb. 14 to the owner of the business.

The summons, though, was backdated to Nov. 30, 2012. Since then, residents said, the zoning officer was relieved of her duties, but residents are unsure if this had anything to do with the issuing of an illegal certificate of occupancy for the business.

Documents obtained by LocalSource leave many questions as to why Easy Fitness with Jeannie obtained a certificate of occupancy in the first place.

For example, even though the owner’s attorney, Robert Renaud of Palumbo & Renaud in Cranford sent a letter to the borough zoning officer on Sept. 27 requesting a “Waiver of Site Plan Review” for the change of tenancy, and duly noted it was an appropriate change of use, it appears the Roselle Park Zoning officer never checked into the matter further to ensure this was indeed the truth.

As residents noted, after requesting documentation through OPRA requests, borough attorney Richard Huxford did eventually address the issue in a letter to the owner of Easy Fitness with Jeannie on Dec. 7, 2012, following with additional letters Jan. 14 and Feb. 1.

The letters explained that the borough was aware that the current use of the site was in violation of the waiver the tenant applied for Sept. 28. Huxford also noted that while the use the tenant stated is a permitted use, a fitness center with Zumba classes is not.

“Kindly take this notice as an official cease and desist of all fitness activities,” the attorney told the tenant, adding that if she continued the classes without obtaining a revised waiver or variance from the Municipal Land Use Board, she would be subject to a summons for violating zoning requirements.

The Feb. 1 letter also contained yet another problem, the fact the tenant erected a sign without obtaining the proper permits as required by borough code.

Subsequently the tenant was issued two summons, one for the zoning violation and another for not obtaining the proper permit for signage.

A report filed by a zoning official for Roselle Park noted that although the business use was health and nutritional counseling, upon inspection Feb. 14, a woman was observed on an exercise bike and the room had “multiple exercise equipment” while another room had an active exercise class taking place. A sign was also observed that was not in compliance.
A court hearing for the violations is expected to be heard later this month.

Although contacted Huxford, Construction Code Official Richard Belluscio, and the owner of the business, Mendes Doman, did not return calls regarding seeking comment.