Discussions: The October 2015 Biltmore letter was meaningless.  Discussion of Church zoning.

Tonight we learned that Township Manager Howard Fink knew or believed that the Biltmore letter was meaningless.   He didn't learn this recently.  Fink knew or believed the letter was meaningless when the letter was signed and mailed to Biltmore.

This surprising bit of news we learned during the Call to the Public comment of former Planning Commissioner Jennifer Delisle.

"I generally discount conspiracy theories.  But you guys are making it harder to believe that there isn't something going on with Biltmore.  So, to say that you were surprised to see that the letter wasn't enough seems disingenuous when Mr. Fink told me that right after it was signed."

On to the meeting report.

Agenda: Unfinished Business, Item A: Biltmore Request to amend Master Plan

The discussion began with Dignan asking Manager Fink to "elaborate on" why Biltmore was on the Agenda. 


"Sure. um. So uh, previously, uh, probably four months ago, five months ago, the Planning Commission voted to send a letter to uh Biltmore Development Company LLC or whatever the name of the company is..."

Next he said he did know what the name of the Company was.

After listening to Fink's version of events, Commissioner Stanalajczo said he believed the PC should have

"a formal written opinion from our [Township] Attorney stating exactly what we need to act on.  I think that's just the basis for us before we even address this on our agenda.  I think that's the minimum we should have."

Chockley asked Planner Sally Hodges, "Does it really need to go before the attorney?"

Iaquinto moved to send the issue to the new Planner for a new report.  During discussion of the motion, Stanalajczo again urged asking the Township Attorney for a written opinion:

"I would think that since the Mr Fink brought up the subject that our attorney is suggesting that we put some action on it that before anything goes off to the planner again and we start the circle all over again, that we actually find out from our attorney exactly what it is that they're saying that we need to act upon, and why, so we have a better explanation on what we're asking for and get that information in writing, so that we do have something to review and look at."

We learned that Manager Fink gets his legal advice by reading the Township Attorney's mind:

Fink: You're you're you're asking me to interpret the uh the advice I was given the advice I was given was to the advice that I was given was that he would like our experts uh and in particular I believe that he was he was thinking about uh the planning committee planning consultant and our engineer to provide their expertise uh for the Planning Commission prior to making that decision.  So I can't I can't say why. [sic]

After fifteen minutes of listening to Manager Fink's increasingly vague interpretations of the Township Attorney's legal opinion, Commissioner Chockley came around to Stanalajczo's viewpoint.  She also asked for the attorney's written opinion:

 I'd appreciate a letter from the attorney.  I mean you get off the phone and after a while you wonder what you talked about it especially if it's a long long conversation.  Um, I would appreciate seeing exactly, in writing, what our attorney had to say about this whole thing.  We've been through the sewer study.  Mr Lewan did a lot of analysis.  We talked about traffic and perhaps it needs to be laid out in a, you know, a more specific ways for the understanding of all of those things and in which case if we have to do that. I'm ok with that. But I would really like to know step by step, if it's that much of a legal deal, step by step what we need to do to put this to rest.

 The discussion ended.  The PC approved the Motion to have the Biltmore request re-studied, re-reported, and re-billed by the $130/hour Township Planner and the Township Engineers.  Afterward, PC Chair Dignan acknowledged that there had been some contract with Biltmore.

I would disclose to the public that Mr. Stollman did call me today.  I explained to Mr. Stollman that we need to address things here at the Board.  He simply asked if he should be present tonight.  I told him that I could not advise him as to whether he could be present, that that was a decision he'd have to make.  But we notified him any time he'd be on the agenda.  So, just so the public knows that conversation did take place earlier today.

The Biltmore discussion is 26 minutes long.  The LiveTranscript contains every word.


3-02-2016 Northfield Township Planning Commission LiveAgenda

Background and resources for this meeting

Below we have broken out the individual documents from the 3-2-2016 meeting packet.  The three Biltmore documents in the packet are the same ones we saw in 2014.  I have added relevant two Carlisle-Wortman reports which were omitted from the meeting packet.  We uncovered those with a 2014 FOIA request.

Since it seems to be in our future, let's revisit the past:

What did Howard Fink know and when did he know it?

Soon after Biltmore's Master Plan amendment request appeared on a meeting agenda, we submitted a group of FOIA requests.  The results documented Township Manager Howard Fink's active role in the attempt to subvert the Master Plan.  

On May 6, 2014, the owner of a parcel sought by Biltmore asked Fink to intervene on his behalf to speed up the purchase closing timeframe.  His May 6 letter to Fink detailed the timing of steps required by Biltmore's option/offer,  It detailed the dependence of the timing on the delivery of a Master Plan amendment.   The parcel owner told Fink that the 3 year timeframe seemed "excessive, given our discussion at the meeting last week."   We can only imagine the "discussion." 

Apparently Fink leapt into action.  Just two days later, in a May 8, 2014 letter, the property owner says he signed the sales agreement and thanks Fink, praising Fink's "skill at guiding the various discussions."   He tells Fink that he and a neighboring property owner got what they wanted.  The deal had been signed.  The neighboring property owner had his deal too.  The parcel owner wrote, "Our deals are predicated on getting all approvals within 2 years, rather than 3 years.  I hope things will move even faster."

Fink later claimed to have been a mere cog in the machinery of government, a dispassionate provider of information to an applicant.  The letters suggest a different reality.

Background, mostly discovered with FOIA requests:


You can watch individual Agenda items with a LiveAgenda


The March 2 meeting packet contains these six documents

The March 2 meeting packet, in one large piece:

Related Resources:

In the meeting packet are the original 2014 Biltmore request for a Master Plan amendment, the Biltmore optioned parcel owner consents, and Carlisle-Wortman's 7-25-2014 report on the request.

Also in the packet, Manager Howard Fink's letter explaining the Living Water Church's fumbled conditional zoning request/non request with the soporific, "Zoning and Planning Process can often be confusing to petitioners."    True enough, Mr. Fink. 

But it's also true that Ken Dignan, who loudly advanced the Living Water Church issue at the January 20, 2016 PC meeting, was at that time both a Planning Commissioner and Chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals.  He is an expert in how these things should proceed in Northfield Township.