WESTFIELD, NJ — When Brian Murphy moved into his New England Drive home in 1986, he thought his residence was the last new home on the block.
So when a developer proposed tearing down a home on his street and building two in its place, he became concerned.
Murphy, now 71, said he doesn’t want the neighborhood of stately homes with wide lots to be disturbed, something that appeared possible as the Planning Board considered a proposal to tear down a single-family-home at 885 New England Drive and build two on the plot.
The Planning Board on Monday sided with Murphy, and about 50 other neighbors, who objected to the developer, Villane Construction LLC’s, proposal.
The board denied Villane Construction LLC’s application to split the .6-acre property in half.
Murphy likened the developer's proposal to a high school disaster. “If it’s bad to have one pimple on the night of the prom, then two on the tip of the nose is horrible,” he said.
The board decided by a unanimous vote cast shortly after 1 a.m.
Chairman Robert Newell said the developer would typically provide elements specific to the design of the homes proposed, and Villane Construction LLC did not do so.
Newell said some local regulations, which Villane Construction LLC relied on for its arguments, are flawed, but he noted the town is reworking its master plan in the coming months, which he hopes will address such flaws.
“Sometimes pieces just get missed, and the oversized lots on New England [Drive] just got missed,” Newell said. “I guarantee you it will not be missed in the next rewrite of the ordinance.”
Jean Erickson, who has lived directly across the street from the property in question 19 years also urged the denial.
“The houses are wide, and they’re spacious, and there are trees,” Erickson said. “I feel like the council members and board member say that they’re sympathetic, but their hands are tied, and I don’t believe that.”
The property across from her home is largely hidden from the road by trees, many of which would have been removed in the board approved the developer’s application.
“I was really kind of shocked at how drastically the arborist was proposing the removal of so many trees on that site,” said Board Member Michael LaPlace.
Residents had formed a Facebook page, Save Westfield’s Neighborhoods, asking people to oppose the development.
An attorney for the opponents, Robert Simon, argued at the developer did not provide the board with a proper history of the property’s ownership.
“It is not a fully conforming application in accordance with your [regulation],” Simon said. “The applicant was required to provide more information under your [law] so you could fully and fairly assess this application.”
Planner for the developer Peter Steck however, argued the plan to subdivide the property complies with local regulations pertaining to street frontage and setbacks.
“The depth ranges from 166 to 169 feet, where the minimum is 120 feet,” Steck said. “From all the provisions of your zoning chapter, this is 100 percent conforming.”
Westfield’s regulation pertaining to subdivision of land, however, is not entirely one based on numbers.
“If the literal enforcement of one or more of these subdivision or site plan regulations shall exact undue hardship, the planning board may permit such deviation as may be reasonable,” the regulation says.
An attorney for the developer Jim Foerst asked the board to look at the laws and not the public sentiment.
“As much as this board would like to look these 50 people in the eye and say ‘We can help you. We can deny this application,’ the law tells you that you can not,” Foerst said.
However, Mayor Shelley Brindle cited a section of the local law itself in casting her vote. She also used the controversy to prepare the public to give input in the upcoming rewrite of the master plan.
“The same passion that you came and showed here tonight, you need to express at the open and public meetings that are going to be a part of this master plan process,” Brindle said.
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh