MONTVILLE, NJ – The owners of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio currently located at 2 Changebridge Road received variance approvals from the Montville Township Zoning Board on Nov.  4. The studio owners will raze a property located at 688 Main Road in Towaco and construct a new building.

The new building will comprise a 4,000 square-foot dance studio, including a 2,000 square-foot dance floor, and will include three one-bedroom apartments on the second floor. The owners also wish to have a small office for the dance studio on the second floor, composed of 465 square feet.

The property is located in the TC-2 zone, which stands for Towaco Center 2, the Transitional Area District. The automobile service station located next door to the property is in the TC-1 zone. One variance the owners sought was a Density Variance to build the apartments, because the TC-2 zone was approved in the Master Plan of 2010 for 12 apartments, which have already all been approved.

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Owner Nadia Goulina told the Zoning Board that the apartments were needed in order to help pay for the building.

In testimony for the applicant, Licensed Professional Planner Mia Petru stated that while the three apartments exceed the Zone 2 limits, they do not exceed the total limit for both Zone 1 and Zone 2 of 45 total apartments. She further argued that even though the Towaco Crossing building, which contains Rails Steakhouse and six residential apartments, is in Zone 2, it really should be counted as being in Zone 1 due to its connection with Zone 1 and the Towaco train station. She said that the remaining businesses in the two zones would probably not be rebuilt with residences, since they are an ice cream store, a montessori school and a repair shop.

The second variance the owners sought was for the height of the building. The ordinance provides a limit of 25 feet for buildings.  Attorney for the owners, Steven Schepis, argued that the owners had met with the Township’s Design Review Committee, which told the owners to place more pitch on the roof to give it a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. As a result, the height is 29.1 feet, but it is only for a portion of the roof.

“Bulk Variances” were also sought, because the proposed site will have impervious coverage of 46%, whereas 40% is permitted. A parking variance was sought because due to the ratio of square footage to the number of total parking spaces available, 29 spaces would be required, but the proposed site plan contains only 28. Three of the 28 spaces would be “tandem” or stacked spots. These tandem parking spaces would be set aside for the apartment residents.

During his testimony, site engineer Joseph Mianecki Jr. stated that there is no storm water management at the site currently, and most of the water flows onto the service station property or the road. He said the majority of the property except the back area is clay, which is basically impervious. The current water runoff winds up in Beaver Brook and very little recharges the aquifer. After consulting with Morris County officials, Mianecki was directed to not increase the amount of drainage onto the driveway of the new building, so storm water management facilities will be installed underground. He proposed to pave the northern portion of the parking lot with “porous pavement,” which will bring the amount of impervious pavement area down to 38%. However, this porous pavement requires yearly vacuuming to make sure it is still porous. Mianecki stated that after development, there will be a small amount more recharging of the aquifer than there is at the site now due to these improvements. He also said that the building itself is half the square footage that’s allowed for impervious coverage.

Another variance was sought for a loading zone to be set aside, but since the dance studio does not receive deliveries of goods, the owners sought relief from this requirement.

Another variance sought was for signs. Only one sign is permitted, but in addition to the studio’s name, Fred Astaire, the owners wanted to place the logo of the studio on a side wall of the building. The logo shows a male and a female dancing.

Other variances include the width of the proposed sidewalk at four feet, whereas a width of five feet is required. Mianecki testified that the difference was because existing, adjacent sidewalks are only four feet wide.

The regulations also state that sidewalk amenities such as a bench and a trash receptacle be provided towards the front of the building, but the owner testified that since the building would be used for a dance studio, they did not wish to encourage pedestrians to sit and watch the dancers because the dancers would feel funny dancing for an audience. The front window of the studio will be clear glass, however.

Light intensity; horizontal articulation, or a delineated line between the floors; steep slopes and environmental impact statement variances were also sought. The variance for lighting intensity was on the western portion of the property, with a nursery business next door. Mianecki said it casts a little bit of back light. He didn’t think it would be an  annoyance to the east because the building is 100 feet away.

With regard to the need for an obvious two-floor design “to provide an aesthetic and architectural interest,” as stated in the Master Plan, Mianecki testified that it’s only the back of the building that does not comply with the two-floor design look.

With regard to the slope variance, Mianecki stated very little slope disturbance will occur, and it will only be to define the refuse enclosure, which is proposed at its most suitable location.

Goulina stated the dance studio would be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to about 10:30 p.m., but most lessons occur in the evening. She stated that the studio teaches some group lessons but mostly individual lessons. She estimated that 60 to 70 percent of their classes are Montville Township residents. She stated that the apartments, since they are one-bedroom, are inappropriate for families and would not affect the school system.

Questions from the Board included member Shelly Lawrence’s question if affordable housing would need to be provided, but Schepis stated that Montville Township affordable housing ordinances begin at five units, and this building would only have three units. Lawrence also asked if there would be on-street parking spots and was told no.

Member Annabel Pierce asked the applicant to consider a monument sign for the logo rather than have the dancers appear on the building, and the applicant stated she was open to this suggestion. Member Deane Driscoll wanted to know if the porous pavement was blocked by snow but he was told it does not need salting and does not become clogged.

Board Chair James Marinello asked if eliminating the patio would reduce the need for the variance for the impervious surface area. Mianecki said it would reduce the square footage of impervious area by about 400 sq. feet but that the resulting 1300 sq. feet would still be over the limit. Marinello also asked if the four-foot wide sidewalk would reduce the need for the variance, but was told it’s not on the property, so it would not. Marinello further stated that “if the Planning Board and the Master Plan and all the professionals that [produced this] had wanted 45 total apartments as opposed to the percentages as stated [by zone], wouldn’t they would have written it that way? It would throw out years and years of planning [designed] to keep [the area] vibrant and developing. What is the impact?” Board Planner Ed Snieckus agreed that the Master Plan would have been written to reflect that, had the planners wanted 45 total, with no zone delineation.

Board Member Margaret Miller-Sanders asked the hours for lighting and was told the parking lot lights would turn off at 11:30 p.m. while the residential lighting would be on from dusk to dawn.

Board Member Kenneth Shirkey wanted assurance that the dance studio would not be rented out for showers or weddings. He stated his concerns about the housing density represented by building three apartments in the TC-2 zone and asked Snieckus to comment. Snieckus stated he didn’t feel the pedestrian connection supported a shift in density.

Shirkey also asked about the impervious coverage and Mianecki said that putting down about 2000 sq. ft. of porous pavement, in addition to the proposed storm water management system would reduce the impervious coverage to 38%. Mianecki stated the porous pavement provides more infiltration than grass. Omland stated that he agreed that 38% was a proper measurement.

In his closing statement, Schepis stated that his applicant’s proposed building “may not fit the letter of the goals, but accomplishes the overall goals of the Master Plan. Here’s an opportunity to keep a business in town and foster the overall goals of the Towaco Center plan. What is on that site now is a dog of a building and my client is willing to invest in this plan to further the Towaco Center. The proposed building does not detract from the area – look at the photos, and you can see it does not. The storm water management system and porous pavement will actually put more infiltration into the aquifer than exists now at that site. Don’t focus on the impervious – look at the plan as a whole and ask, ‘is this a good thing for the town?’ Bear in mind this is a small property. This is so low impact with just three one-bedroom apartments. This is an opportunity you should seize before it disappears.”

Marinello closed public discussion, and further discussion among the Board members occurred. Marinello stated he is sure the porous pavement surface is going to fail, yet the proposal includes plans to pave more than 50% of the property. While there will be more recharge to the aquifer post-development, it will be slight.

Board Member Richard Moore stated that Beaver Brook does in fact recharge the aquifer.

Marinello stated that Towaco Village is a miracle that the residents have been waiting forty years for. He stated the lynchpin, however, is the service station next door to the property, and wants to be sure that what the vote approves will not discourage the service station from fully developing in any way, because it’s an eyesore. He recommended caution but stated “it’s not going to be Hoboken.”

Pierce stated the Board has an obligation to the citizens to protect the zoning laws and the aquifer. “There have been a lot of studies to develop safeguards and we’re being asked to set those aside because it’s attractive,” she said.

Shirkey made a motion to approve the variances with the following conditions:

1.      The porous pavement must have quarterly maintenance with notice given to the Township of compliance

2.      Must have off-hours garbage pickup

3.      Resident parking only in the tandem spaces

4.      The dumpster must not have cross-contamination to the filtration system

5.      Meet affordable housing requirements

6.      Make sure the side lighting units are baffled to reduce overflow lighting to adjacent properties

7.      The dumpster will have landscaping rather than a fence around it

8.      Stone wall on the side should be in conformance with six-foot height

9.      Move the basement to the front of the building

10.    Remove impervious pavers on the rear patio reducing the impervious coverage to 1300 sq. ft.

11.    Signage to be a front, road sign and then a monument sign at the side entrance driveway with no silhouette logo on the side of the building

Driscoll seconded the motion and the Board voted.  Although Moore and Marinello voted no, the other members voted yes and the application passed.