PLAINFIELD, NJ - When Cassandra Smith bought her Plainfield residence eight years ago, little did she realize that the existing gravel driveway would become the main issue for Wednesday’s Zoning Board meeting. After unsuccessful attempts to resolve violations issued in 2014, 2015 and 2018, Smith filed an application to seek relief from the Plainfield Land Use Ordinance to allow for front yard parking to a single family dwelling. The ordinance allows residential front yard parking if the driveway leads up to a useable garage in order to preserve a residential character.
Representing herself, Smith read her carefully prepared statement outlining her case for her gravel driveway that accommodates the single vehicle that she owns. According to Smith, a 50-year Plainfield resident, the driveway was consistent with her neighborhood and several others in the city.
Despite being in a low to moderate density housing zone, she mentioned that several neighboring homes have multiple vehicles, often lining the streets, leaving little, if any, on-street parking. Smith, an older adult resident, appreciated the convenience and security of being able to park on her property with easy access to her home versus parking a block or two away. “The driveway is not esthetically unpleasant, it is not blight to the neighborhood and does not infringe on any other property,” she stated at Wednesday's meeting.
After a short recess to allow Smith to review the conclusions of a recent planner's report on her case, members reconvened and discussed possible options. Many felt that due to the lot size, the construction of a garage would not be feasible and, ultimately, the homeowner was not at fault as it appeared that the driveway existed at the time of purchase. Others felt that if granted, it may open up the flood gates to other homeowners with similar driveway violations.
It became apparent from the discussion that current Land Use Ordinances, drafted in 2002, may be outdated and not supportive of current lifestyle needs. During the public comment period, one resident clearly opposed granting the variance, stating that front yard parking degrades the character of the city and there was a need to enforce ordinances.
Zoning Board member Jim Spear stated that the city has a process where homes are inspected prior to closing and issued a Certificate of Compliance and violations should have been noted at that time.
In the end, the applicant prevailed and was given six months in which to bring the existing gravel driveway into compliance with current city standards.
The Zoning Board meets monthly at City Hall, and meetings are open to the public. Agendas can be found online on the city’s website, and all documents are available for inspection in the Planning Division department at City Hall on the second floor.
The next public meeting is scheduled for August 7 at 7 p.m.