Business & Finance

Site Planner Testifies Regarding Proposed Towaco Townhouses

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MONTVILLE, NJ – Professional Planner Mia Petrou testified that a proposed 23-unit townhouse project would further the goals of the Towaco Master Plan at the July 6 Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Towaco resident Dan Furia’s Shops on Main has been built on Route 202/Main Road, but a second, mirror-image building next door plus the townhouse units behind the two commercial buildings have been the subject of continuing testimony since Aug. 2015. The conforming, permitted use for the land behind the two commercial establishments would be a 20,000 square foot retail building.

The Towaco Center Master Plan was prepared in 2008 and is “intended to serve as the master development plan for the Towaco Train Station area.” It set goals for land use, aesthetic enhancements, and expanded housing choices for Towaco.

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Petrou stated that the proposal will accomplish the goals of the Towaco Master Plan, because its goal is to “provide a mix of compatible residential and commercial land uses in a vibrant, compact community.”

A train station should have shops and services with accessibility and walkability with a “vibrant, compact environment,” she said.

Petrou then went through the goals of the Towaco Center Master Plan and discussed why the proposal is in keeping with those goals.

One goal is to “create a new, mixed-use area, incorporating compatible resident and commercial land uses.”

Another is to “balance, complement, link and coordinate the mix of uses.”

Petrou said this was an important goal, because of retail and commercial usage, which are heavily dependent on visibility.

The rear of the property is obscured by the streetscape, Petrou said, and the streetscape is what provides the identity for the area. Prior testimony had stated that owner Furia had tried to build a conforming retail center but retailers were not interested due to the hidden nature of a building located behind other buildings on 202.

Petrou said the Master Plan envisioned shared parking and access, but this is unlikely to happen because of the rehabilitation of the existing structures adjacent to the proposed commercial and townhouse buildings.

Petrou said the townhouses would provide a “choice” for residents in the township, and would “fill a gap” between single family homes and apartments. Empty-nesters or a couple just starting out would have a new option. Further, residents could walk to shops, support the retail environment, and walk to the train station and take a train into Manhattan, she said.

Petrou reiterated what had been stated in other testimony, that the housing component is designed to bring people to the center without having to drive and to support the local services and create a community environment. She called the area a “transit village,” and said there would be no village without the residential component.

She said the Master Plan calls for the economic redevelopment of Towaco, and the second building proposed as part of the application would further that goal.

She called the proposed project an “orderly transition of uses,” because the business units would be on 202, then the townhouses would be placed behind them, then the existing single family homes behind that. She called the project a benefit to the residents to the north and west to not have a commercial building behind the 202 buildings, which would be the permitted use of the lot.

“This proposal represents a less intense use of the area,” Petrou said.

It also uses less parking and therefore less pavement and impervious coverage, she said. Only 47 additional residents would be using township resources, which would not be a drain, she said.

“The purpose of a plan is to be a road map for the area, and sometimes you have to adjust the plan to get where you need to go,” Petrou said. “The goal is to get people to the center and that will happen with this development. […] This is an adjustment to the plan.”

Furia’s attorney, Steven Schepis, showed the conforming building and Petrou said it appeared to have more impervious coverage and could impact the Montessori school and existing residences.

Regarding the height variance the applicant is seeking, the maximum height in the TC-1 zone is 25 feet or two stories. Three stories or 35 feet can be requested if the primary frontage is on Route 202, there is a eight-foot decline in elevation or more, and only the rear of the building would be three stories, not the front. Petrou pointed out that nearby Jade Mountain townhouses are 40 feet in height. Petrou said that the rear buildings are 300 feet from Brook Lane due to the wetlands buffer. The townhouse application is requesting 30 feet in height.

Overall, the impervious coverage for the building already built, the proposed commercial building, and the townhouse building would be 21%, although the newly built building exceeds impervious coverage by itself, Petrou said.

Township Planner Joseph Burgis said, “The Master Plan is a long-range vision. It was undertaken in 2010, and people realized it would take a number of years to see it come to fruition. We realized some properties would never develop, which is the nature of a master plan.”

“The focus was to encourage residential development,” Burgis said. “Residential development is needed for the background. You need commercial development for a symbiotic relationship.”

He pointed to the ratio of residential compared to commercial square footage and said there is no connection due to the large number of residential units in the application.

He also pointed to the Master Plan’s goal to have a central, active gathering area, which resident Kim Bott had asked about at a prior meeting, and said it has been reduced to a sidewalk and some benches. Petrou said that was difficult due to the configuration of the site and maintaining visibility.

Board Member/alternate Ron Soussa asked about adherence to the Master Plan, and Petrou pointed out that in order to completely follow the letter of the plan, three existing residences would have to be acquired and razed.

Board Member Kurt Dinkelmeyer asked about a conforming plan and Petrou said the problem would be visibility, as was discussed at the Feb. 10, 2015 Township Committee meeting.

Board Chair James Marinello said, “As a professional planner, does it give you pause to go to that height at that density [of buildings]?”

Petrou said it’s reasonable for the layout of the site because there are breaks between the buildings.

Board Member Ken Shirkey asked where the open space was and Petrou said this is intended to be more of an urban environment.

Public Portion

Towaco resident Michelle Caron approached the microphone during the public portion.

“Your vision is my nightmare,” Caron said.

She raised concerns about the height of the buildings and the lighting being too strong.

She said 28 years ago, the Open Space Committee had not purchased the land because residents had been promised nothing could be built on the property.

As for a transit village, Caron said that her neighbors drive to Wayne to take the bus or train, since the routes out of Towaco do not go directly into Manhattan, and NJ Transit is considering making the parking lot permit only, since patrons of Towaco businesses are using the lot.

“I got hit by a car walking on 202, so the bike racks, you painted a wonderful picture, but it’s not reality,” she said.

She questioned whether buyers would pay $650,000 for townhouses with no yard, gym or swimming pool.

She also worried about flooding onto Brook Lane.

“Just because you can build, do you have to?” Caron said. “It’s a rosy story being told, but it’s a story, and we’re asking you to look at the truth.”

Towaco resident Claire Kolaritsch said, “If you want to change Towaco, stay where you live [now].”

Testimony will continue at the Aug. 3 meeting.

To read the Towaco Master Plan, click HERE.

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