MONTVILLE, NJ - The corner of Main Road (Route 202) and Highland Avenue near the Boonton town line has had a white house on the lot for years. Montville resident Bob Gannon and his business partner have plans, approved by the Montville Township Board of Adjustment, to demolish the structure and build a mixed-use building, with retail units on the ground floor and two, two-bedroom apartments on the second floor.
But adjacent Highland Avenue residents are not pleased with the development, due to the planned placement for the building’s exit driveway on Highland Avenue. The Township’s Master Plan, adopted in 2010, provides for “promoting commercial development and not including additional turning movements on Route 202.”
“Nobody on the street has any issues with this development,” stated Highland Avenue resident Kristen Steskel. “Our biggest issue is the only means of egress from the unit is right into our street.”
Highland Avenue resident Danielle Dembowski lives across Highland Avenue from the planned exit driveway. “I have two young kids,” stated Dembowski. “That’s my main concern -- I don’t know how much more of a parent I can be, but we live in a town with no sidewalks. Children play in the street. The exit driveway will be in front of my house and they expect me to be ok with it?"
“They have it on the blueprints [that our street is] 50 feet wide but it’s only 28 feet,” continued Dembowski. “Where are they coming up with these numbers? They must have measured that at the corner. It’s not true. I said to [Committee Member] Jim Sandham I would love for them to come here and have them pull out and not hit my property.”
Page 7 of the Board’s resolution states, “The proposal to have one-way traffic into the site is consistent with the master plan, by limiting the cars that would otherwise leave the property directly onto Route 202. This proposal limits access ways to the property from Route 202 by having only a one-way entrance and no direct exit onto Route 202.” It also states on page 10 that “The board has reviewed and considered the testimony in favor of and in opposition to the application and has determined that the development, as proposed, is a site plan that functions well. The circulation works well on site.”
Gannon stated, “I understand [the Highland Avenue residents’] concerns but we followed the county and town guidelines to development on the main artery – Route 202. They both call for an ingress [entry driveway] from Route 202 and if it’s a corner property, the egress onto the side street. We fully comply with those zoning codes. That’s why we did it that way. What we did agree to, as long as the town engineer agrees, is to do a ‘left turn only’ out of the parking lot. I told them verbally I don’t have a problem doing that, so we’re trying to confirm if that’s going to be done or not.”
Although the development has been in planning stages since its purchase in August of 2013, Dembowski stated she and her husband Jarrett were only notified at the end of the process. “We didn’t know that’s the one and only meeting,” she stated, regarding the November 5th Board of Adjustment meeting to which they were invited.
“Danielle and Jarrett got chastised at that meeting,” stated Steskel. “They were told, ‘you should have been at these meetings from the get-go.’ By the time we were invited to the meeting, it was already done. We were told that we couldn’t make comments, we could only ask questions. My thing is, how do you call someone in but when we get there it’s already done? I thought we were invited to have a say and that’s not what happened.”
Although the resolution passed by the Township Board of Adjustment states that “this matter was considered in accordance with the Township Municipal Land Use and Development Regulations and a public hearing was held, during which hearing reports were presented and the public was given the opportunity to submit questions, comments and objections relative to the proposed development of the subject property,” Dembowski stated that only questions were allowed.
Dembowski and Steskel are further angered by what they feel is classism-based prejudice regarding their section of town. “One adjustment board member said ‘that side of town has always bothered me -- it doesn’t look good.’ Well, what does that mean?” stated Steskel.
“I’m almost inclined to believe that since we are located in what was referred to as ‘Old Montville,’ that we are falling subject to wealth discrimination or classism,” stated Dembowski. “There are no instances like this [of a commercial driveway exiting onto a residential street] throughout the wealthier parts of town, and it seems as if wealth and influence go a long way in this town. Our children and our neighbors are just as valuable as the rest of the inhabitants of the town. No amount of money that stands to be made on the commercial space is worth an injury or worse.”
“While driving through town I struggled to find one commercial property that discharges across the street from a residential property,” stated Dembowski. “Montville Bagels was the example given at the zoning meeting – it does discharge onto a residential street, but directly across from Lincoln Park Savings Bank, another commercial lot. Barry’s Pharmacy and Joe’s Pizza have the same entrance and exit onto Changebridge Road. Montville Valero does discharge onto a residential street, but again, it is across the street from commercial property that houses a nail salon and dry cleaners. J. Eckert Locksmiths on 8 Main Road has the same entrance and exit onto Rt. 202 (Main Road), as does the landscaper at 18 Main Road, Metro Pet Supply directly across the street from 9 Main Road, Nirvana Yoga and Wellness Center at 112 Main Road, Harrigan’s Restaurant at 144 Main Road, and more. I understand that accidents happen, but why increase the potential to cause one by allowing commercial traffic to exit onto a residential street across from private residences?”
“If they could make it left turn only lane out of the development and move the driveway 10 feet, we would have been happy,” stated Steskel. “We have about 18 children who live on our street. I worry about the kids. They dart in and out as they ride bikes.”
“As parents, we do our best to provide for and protect our children. Bob Gannon, Stonybrook Realty, and the Town are putting our children in danger,” stated Dembowski.
Residents of Highland Avenue are planning to file an appeal to the Board’s decision. Township Planner Meghan Hunscher could not comment on the situation due to the impending litigation but did state, “The residents within 200 feet were notified ten days prior to the hearing, which is required by law. There was also notice in the newspaper and the agendas are posted to the website. The Zoning Board is a volunteer board made up of residents. They hear the facts of the case, listen to the neighbors’ concerns, and then make a determination to deny or approve the application based on what was presented. I cannot speak for them, but you can review the resolution [HERE]. Movement of the driveway would affect the parking and possibly the position of the building."
“By the time I get the invite it’s already been ok’ed. That’s where I get irritated. The process was not in our favor. This development was rubber stamped,” stated Steskel.
“You had to notify people 200 feet away -- my property is 100 feet by 150 feet. How many people were notified? Just me and my neighbor. We put our faith in a town and a government to protect and provide a safe environment to live in, and now that faith is wavering,” stated Dembowski.
(Read about other development in Montville HERE)