Zoning Board Continues to Hear Testimony on “Montville Manor” and Townhomes by Towaco Rail Station

Professional Planner John McDonough, Attorney Michael Sullivan, Joaquin Bouzas of Inglese Architecture + Engineering   Credits: Melissa Benno
Township Planner Ryan Conklin Board, Asssistant Secretary Jane Mowles-Rodriguez, Chairman James Marinello, Attorney Bruce Ackerman Credits: Melissa Benno
Vince Rienzi, who owns the Towaco Village Center, and  Attorney Steven Schepis Credits: Melissa Benno
Richard Reading, Attorney Steven Schepis Credits: Melissa Benno
Marc Walker and Steven Schepis Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ – The Zoning Board of Adjustment met on Dec. 2 and continued hearing testimony about two applications: "Montville Manor" and Townhomes by Towaco Rail Station.  

"Montville Manor"

“Montville Manor” is a proposed building to be built at the corner of Changebridge Road and Bloomfield Avenue near Don Pepe’s Restaurant, which the applicant owns. The building would need variances so that it could be built as a multi-family dwelling unit, for parking setbacks, and for impervious coverage, among other requests.

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Attorney Michael Sullivan presented Benito Lopez’s application to the Zoning Board.

“The plan has undergone two substantial reductions in size,” said Sullivan. “The current proposal is down to a two-story building with only 12 units, down from 24 and then 18 units. We eliminated a story, which eliminates the [need for a] ‘D-6 Height Variance.’” The building proposed is now two feet below the maximum allowed height. Eight of the units would be two-bedroom and four would be one-bedroom. The units will range in size from 691 to 850 square feet.

The floor-use ratio variance proposed is for 30.4%, whereas only 25% is allowed. A front-yard setback from Bloomfield Avenue is being requested: 50 feet setback is required, but 10.3 feet is being requested.

The impervious coverage variance requested is at 66%, whereas normally a maximum of 55% is allowed.

Joaquin Bouzas of Inglese Architecture + Engineering testified that a concrete island was added to the driveway so that drivers can only turn right out of the driveway. The number of parking spaces has been reduced and a grassy area has been added to the site plan.

Professional Planner John McDonough then provided testimony regarding the site plan and its impact.

“We are dealing with a ‘challenge site,’” said McDonough. “It is substantially undersized for what it’s zoned for. ‘Office’ is zoned here but that has not manifested. Here we have an applicant willing to put this site into some functional use, to create a reasonable development. Good planning looks at striking a balance between the benefits of a plan and putting a piece of property to functional use.”

Multi-family usage can be adapted well to such an irregular site, said McDonough. He said the proposed building is “reasonably sized” and “not an overly dense use of the property.” He said that the Master Plan was developed in 2010 before the effects of the economic crash were felt, multi-family is the strongest demand for land use, and that small residential use in a commercial zone does not impair the integrity of the zone. He also said that there will be adequate parking for the site, and the building would not stand out as oversized or be perceived as non-conforming.

Township Professional Planner Sean Moronski asked what impact to the building would come from reducing the square footage to the requirement, and Bouzas said it would decrease the units to ten and be a detriment to the building’s style and architecture.

Board members asked about the site’s walkability to mass transit and whether school-age children are predicted to live in the units. McDonough said that mass transit is near the site but it probably be best not to walk to it, and that this type of living unit is more attractive to non-families such as young professionals and empty nesters.

The property will need to satisfy state Affordable Housing legislation, but the owner’s proposal for meeting that law, as well as the traffic study conducted for the proposed building, will be heard at a later meeting.

Shops on Main I and II

The second portion of the meeting was devoted to the proposed townhouses to be built near the Towaco rail station.

The project, to be built on land located behind Route 202/Main Road, Waughaw Road, and Indian Hill Road, would place 23 townhouses on the site. Residents fear the project will interfere with the township’s aquifer and eliminate the habitat of several endangered species.

Attorney Steven Schepis presented owner Dan Furia’s application for variances regarding using the land for townhouses, the height of the townhouse buildings, impervious coverage, encroachment into a required buffer area, lack of public open space, number of parking and loading spaces, location of vehicular access, setback of entryway steps, and number of wall signs.

First to testify was Vince Rienzi, who owns the Towaco Village Center, which is located near the proposed buildings, at the corner of Waughaw and Main Road.

“Mr. Schepis thought my point of view might add some perspective to the proposal. We’ve owned the Towaco Village Center since 2010. We wanted to bring the feel of an older downtown to Towaco, similar to Main Street U.S.A. in Walt Disney World. We didn’t put residences into our building because we didn’t think the rental income would justify the expense, and we thought that window unit air conditioners and different shades in windows wouldn’t ‘go’ with the look we wanted to achieve,” said Rienzi.

When asked for his thoughts on businesses with residences upstairs, which is what the land Furia owns is zoned for, Rienzi said, “All of the businesses struggle here, because there’s a limit to the number of ‘mom and pop’ stores that can open in a retail area that’s a center of town.” He worried about too much retail being in the area. He said his building has retail space available and so does the Towaco Crossing building which contains Rails Steakhouse, whereas a residential building would “bring people to the downtown area, which is an important component of building a community area. Second, townhomes represent a ‘commitment’ – now they’re a homeowner and a tax payer.” He said townhouses would bring a benefit to the area.

Schepis then introduced testimony from Richard Reading, a professional financial and economic analyst located in Princeton, whose specialty is the economics of land use. Reading stated that the 4,000 square-foot retail space is expected to rent out at $24 per square foot and employ ten people, and would have three rental units. The development would include three low-cost housing units for low income families. The townhouses would consist of 20 two-bedroom and three three-bedroom units and would sell for an approximate average of $601,000. The project would assess at $15.2 million, Reading said. The development would house 47 residents at some additional cost to the Township, calculated to be $38,000, but that added municipal tax revenue would be $67,000. He predicted three to five public school children would live in the development, at a cost of $48,600 but resulting in $209,000 additional tax revenue to the school district. He did not perceive the three to five children to be a burden to the school system since enrollment has declined in the past few years.

Reading called the proposal a “transit-oriented development,” which means it’s centered on the Towaco train station and would bring young professionals interested in using the train system to commute to work, or “empty nesters.” He said that since the townhouses would be “for-sale,” not rental, they would have a higher assessed value, which would benefit the Township. He called the proposed development a “fiscally beneficial use.”

Questions centered on the number of affordable housing units to be set aside and the calculations used for determining the number of predicted school children.

Marc Walker testified as to a “conforming” development, stating that it would be a “sea of parking and a lot more activity at the site.” He stated the proposed square footage of impervious coverage would be 22,481 fewer square feet than a conforming plan, and a conforming plan would require an additional half acre of pavement for parking.

Walker stated that the plan currently is for 17.1% impervious coverage for the townhouses and 61.6% coverage for the front building. He said the overall impervious coverage rate is 21.1%, but 50% is allowed in the “CWR restricted” area (the front) and 40% coverage is allowed in the “CWR prime” area (the townhouse area).

Schepis stated that the townhouses would be a “more practical and better alternative” for the site.

Neighbors to the proposed development attended the meeting and stated publicly they are obtaining an attorney to represent them in the matter.

Board Chairman James Marinello stated he wanted to hear more testimony related to the economics of building a conforming retail space. Walker had testified that grocery store chains were vetted but were not interested in building on the site due to lack of traffic and visibility.

Township Planner Ryan Conklin stated he would like information from the National Heritage Database from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to assess the present or absence of threatened species.

The applicant will have to issue new Notice to neighbors due to the change in the amount of impervious coverage being requested. The matter will be revisited at the February 5th, 2016 meeting.

To read about the September hearing regarding Montville Manor, click Montville Manor.

To read about the prior Zoning Board Meeting regarding the Towaco townhouses click August 5th.


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