By Steve Sears
A planning department sounds like a pretty important unit, and one might think that involvement of quite a few people may be necessary for the department to properly function.
Think again Mt. Olive residents.
“The planning department consists of just two people: myself and Mary Strain who serves as both the department secretary and secretary to the planning board,” says Chuck McGroarty, the director of planning. This being said, McGroarty also states that he and Strain collaborate closely with many township departments.
“Although we are only a two-person department, we collaborate closely with all the departments within the township and with Eugene Buczynski, the township engineer who is an outside consultant and has served Mt. Olive for more than 30 years,” he said. “We also work closely with the township attorney and the attorney for the planning board. I believe strongly in this team approach which brings a wide range of expertise to any particular problem or issue thus maximizing our efficiency and service.”
McGroarty has quite a resume. He has worked for the Township of Mt. Olive for 29 years, first for 13 years (Nov. 1989 – June 2002) as director of planning, then as an outside planning consultant to the township the following 15 years from June 2002 – Oct. 2017. In Oct. 2017, he returned to his current helm, that title including township planner and zoning officer.
A master’s degree recipient from Rutgers University in City and Regional Planning, McGroarty is licensed in New Jersey as a professional planner, and is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
As the township planner, McGroarty’s responsibilities are many, including preparing updates and amendments to the township’s Master Plan, the township’s affordable housing plan- known as the Housing Element & Fair Share Plan- and updates and changes to the township’s Land Use Ordinance or zoning ordinance.
“I also review and approve or deny all zoning permits which are required for improvements to homes and businesses within the township,” he adds. In addition, McGroarty reviews all development applications, including variance requests, which are requests to depart from the strict requirements of the Land User Ordinance, and prepares reports on the same for the Mt. Olive Planning Board, and attends all planning board public hearings in his position as the township planner. “The planning board,” he asserts, “is separate from the planning department. It is comprised of township residents appointed by the mayor, along with a representative from the township council and acts in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal Land Use Law, a NJ state statute that sets forth the scope and authority for the board.”
Finally, he adds, “As the zoning officer I enforce the township’s zoning and property maintenance regulations.”
McGroarty is quick to point out that Strain is an essential part of the planning department, helping the public with questions, concerns and complaints about zoning permits and zoning and property maintenance issues, and processing all development applications, including keeping track of applications and funds associated with same.
“Mary also is responsible for assembling the information to respond to the many Open Public Records Act (OPRA) we receive from the public,” he says.
He says that 2018 was a banner year for Department of Planning.
“We achieved a major accomplishment this year in putting together the township’s affordable housing plan which was approved by Superior Court and will guide the township’s efforts in this area through the year 2025. I was also successful in securing a substantial grant from the New Jersey Highlands Council to conceive and prepare a Redevelopment Plan for a portion of the Rt. 46 corridor in Budd Lake with a particular emphasis on revitalizing business opportunities together with a focus on protecting and preserving the natural habitat of the lake which serves as the headwaters of the South Branch Raritan River.”
McGroarty and the Mt. Olive Twp. Planning Department are located at the Mt. Olive Municipal Building, 204 Flanders-Drakestown Road. Call (973) 691-0900, ext. #7310, or visit www.mtolivetwp.org for more information.