No, Grazie: Marco Polo-Area Residents Strongly Oppose Affordable Housing Overlay Zone in Their Neighborhood

Residents who live in the area adjacent to Marco Polo Restaurant expressed their concern with that location being designated as an 'overlay zone'. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Common Council, at its first meeting in May, unanimously approved a zoning ordinance that includes seven ‘overlay zones’ to allow builders the option of building lower-cost ‘affordable housing’ in various areas of the City.

The ordinance is designed to bring Summit into compliance with an agreement recently signed with the Fair Share Housing Center to ensure the Hilltop City meets New Jersey affordable housing quotas. That agreement, if approved by state courts at a compliance hearing later this month, would protect the City from so-called ‘Builders Remedy Litigation’ for 10 years.

However, at the meeting, Council chambers was crowded with many residents of the area surrounding the Marco Poio Restaurant, whose property encompasses one of the seven overlay zones.

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At the meeting, Michael Jedziniak, an attorney with Jeffrey R. Surenian and Associates -- the firm that represented the City in hammering out the Fair Share Housing agreement -- and Joseph Burgis of Burgis Associates, the City’s planning consultants, explained that the proposed overlay zones would not change current zoning, but would allow developers the option of constructing developments including affordable housing within existing zones.

In moving the ordinance for final adoption, Council buildings and grounds chairman Robert Rubino agreed with the explanation of overlay zones put forth by the housing experts, adding that -- under state law -- each community in the state must set aside 20 percent of its housing development for affordable housing.

Burgis, in explaining the history and the quota of affordable housing units required in Summit, noted that one organization estimated the Hilltop City’s quota at 183 units and the Fair Share Housing Center, which filed suit against Summit, said the Hilltop City’s quota should be about 1,400 units.

He added that, with credits for vacant land in the City and other “set asides” and through other provisions of the Fair Share Housing agreement, Summit’s quota would probably wind up at about 75 units of affordable housing.

However, several times during the presentation, Second Ward Councilman Patrick Hurley, a former member of the Summit Housing Authority, pointed out that the figures quoted by Burgis were “aspirational,” meaning they might be closer to what the City would be able to provide for, but the true “unmet need” -- the goal that the overlay zones was aimed at satisfying -- was really 653 units.

During public comments on the proposed ordinance, Molly Adams of 43 Miele Place noted that the Marco Polo parking lot, now in an R-6 residential zone, could possibly be considered as a plot that was “visibly underused,” and could, therefore be “a prime candidate for change.”

Bringing multi-family housing of the type envisioned by the proposed overlay zone to that area, she said, would drastically change the character of the neighborhood in a negative way.

Adams also objected to the possible 42-foot height of the commercial property that could front a possible commercial-residential development along Morris Avenue. The current frontage, she said, only reaches a height of 30 feet.

Burgis replied that the R-6 zone enables multi-family housing to be built on the Marco Polo parking lot site, adding that the court’s special master, when touring Summit, did see that site as a possible area where affordable housing could be constructed.

In later discussions, Burgis estimated that even with existing zoning, 16 to 18 multi-family units could be constructed on the site, with 24 or more if that type of housing were brought in via the overlay zone proposed for the area.

Marco Polo Restaurant owner Socrates Kyritsis, a resident of Plain Street, said he purchased the restaurant around the time he came to Summit in 1966 and worked with the City to have affordable housing brought into the area around the time he was expanding the restaurant.

Kyritsis said the neighborhood had grown up around the idea of providing the type of affordable housing that is there now but is not available in many other areas of Summit.

He added, however, that the neighborhood offered affordable, mostly two-family homes and should not have to bear the burden of a different kind of development.

A few residents questioned why, with Marco Polo currently a two-story structure, that three-story structures would be permitted with the overlay zone.

Burgis replied that the overlay zone might allow for a three-story structure with the first floor retail and two stories of residences above.

A number of residents expressed concerns that increased residential usage in the area plus the greater number of residences would add to already challenging traffic situation in the area for both residents and children attending the nearby Washington School.

Burgis, again emphasizing that the zoning ordinance would not authorize a specific development, said any potential developer would have to come before the city planning and/or zoning boards with a specific site plan and those boards would most likely require traffic studies to be presented before giving any approvals.

Another resident, Summit Deputy Fire Chief Don Nelson of 21 Plain Street said, although he realized the Council was under court deadlines to approve the zoning ordinance, the concepts presented were too complicated to be explained in a one-hour council meeting and a neighborhood forum should be held on the overlay proposals.

Councilman David Naidu, also a member of the buildings and grounds committee, said his son had just graduated from Washington School and his daughter now was attending the school, so he knew all about the traffic concerns.

Naidu, also a member of the planning board, agreed with Burgis, however, that any plan for a development would have to include presentations of traffic studies.

He added the concerns presented by residents at the Council meeting were real and it did not harm them to present them before the courts rule on the Fair Share Housing agreement.

The Ward I representative noted, however, that the zoning ordinance was taking place at the beginning of what could be a 10-year process.

He endorsed the idea of a neighborhood meeting on the proposed overlay zone, but said the Council needed to act on the agreement so that Summit could determine its own fate rather than having a third party -- namely, the courts -- impose a solution on it.

Ward 2 Councilman Steven Bowman, a member of the City zoning board, agreed with Naidu’s comments and assured the residents that they also would get a fair hearing before the Board, just as residents had when they successfully opposed a development plan for Springfield and Passaic Avenue that they felt was not right for that area.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Mary Ogden, a former resident of Miele Place, said she also shared resident concerns about traffic, especially since she was chairwoman of the governing body’s safety committee.

Mayor Nora Radest agreed that the pact would ensure that Summit determined its own fate and shape its affordable housing to the character of the Hilltop City rather than having the courts, the Fair Share Housing Center, or others determine how that housing was to be allocated or constructed.

Council president Michael McTernan, who, before the presentation, outlined the history of affordable housing in the City and Summit’s commitment to it going back more than 100 years, noted that even if 24 units of housing were approved for the Marco Polo site the requirement for affordable units only would be 20 percent of that -- or about five units.

On another topic, Radest proclaimed May as Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Month in Summit. Another presentation saw the Council accepting a $50,000 Investors Bank donation and a $150,000 grant from the Investors Foundation towards the renovation of the Summit Community Center.

Also, Louis and Joseph DeSocio, on behalf of the Summit Elks Lodge, announced that the Elks would be sponsoring a presentation as part of its “Walk Out on Drugs” program at 11:30 am on Sunday, May 7, in the area around the gazebo at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside. Louis DeSocio added that New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and Assemblywoman Nancy Muñoz of Summit were expected to participate.



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