LAKE COMO, NJ — The Lake Como Council has taken its first official step to determine whether the borough’s three-block business district is in need of redevelopment.
To kick off the revitalization effort, the governing body on January 21 authorized the planning board to conduct a needs improvement study for the Main Street area — from 17th to 19th Avenues. The preliminary investigation will be geared toward determining whether certain blocks and lots would meet state land-use guidelines for classification as “areas in need of development” without condemnation of property.
As members of the planning board, Mayor Kevin Higgins and Council President Douglas Witte recommended the study to their fellow council members for approval. “The needs improvement study will get the redevelopment plan rolling,” said Higgins, who had formed an ad hoc committee of borough officials and residents to initially explore ways to boost the business district’s appeal.
Stretching along less than one-half mile along Main Street, the borough’s downtown district features an eclectic blend of old, new and refurbished structures housing an assortment of stores, eateries, businesses and residences — from the 10-year-old mixed-use building of retail space, professional offices and condominiums at 17th Avenue to the strip of stores across the street between 17th and 18th Avenues that date back some 80 years.
There also are two taverns, liquor stores, hair salons and convenience stores, a charter school, radio station, laundromat and several empty storefronts among the mix — as well as the Lake Como Borough Hall, and vacant former firehouse and police station.
The council’s action to launch the needs improvement study comes on the heels of the planning board’s re-examination of the borough’s Master Plan. In providing an update of planning and land-use issues since the plan was adopted in 2009, the board specifically addressed areas of concern in the general business zone along Main Street.
During a workshop meeting before the borough council’s January 21 regular meeting, Lake Como Planning Board Chairman Joseph Cavaluzzi and borough engineer Alan Hilla provided a summary of these issues, including:
- Improving existing commercial design standards, such as building facades, streetscapes, parking areas, signage, lighting and screening/planting.
- Limiting residential “overdevelopment” in the Main Street area.
- Ensuring that buildings in mixed-use areas are no taller than 35 feet high or three stories.
- Maximizing on-street parking and considering requirements for off-street parking, electric car charging stations and bicycle travel and parking.
- Placing restrictions on the types of establishments allowed in the business district.
- Prohibiting radio towers in their entirety in the zoning ordinance.
In its re-examination report, the planning board also made the following recommendations to the borough council in order to ensure consistency with the master plan in all areas of town, including residential zones:
- Create floor area ratio limits to help keep residential structures under 2½ floors by use — rather than bulk — variance.
- Develop standards for accessory structures and features, such as patios, decks, mechanical equipment, arbors, pergolas and other structures that may have a “common connotation.”
- Prohibit sump pumps and limit basements to one to two feet above the seasonal high ground water table to prevent the discharge of stormwater into borough streets.
- Require grading plans in all development applications to help ensure stormwater runoff to other properties is addressed in the approval process.
- Develop criteria for applicants looking to reconstruct significantly damaged properties — an issue that arose after the former Hollycroft Inn on North Boulevard was ravaged by fire in January 2018.
- Make utility-grade telecommunications installations a conditional use as the technology continues to evolve.
- Develop a checklist for planning board applications to ensure completeness of the paperwork before borough officials review the proposals.
It is now up to the borough council to decide whether any of these recommendations will be “codified” through revised or new borough ordinances.
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