SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Planning Board, in its first meeting of 2017, gave its unanimous backing to an agreement between the City and the Fair Share Housing Center that could create between 50 and 75 additional affordable housing units in the Hilltop City. 

The agreement also includes a number of credits for existing housing, already-proposed housing and rehabilitation of existing residences.

However, a portion of one of the keys to the agreement -- creation of  “overlay zones” in eight areas of the City that could allow for affordable housing -- was opposed by residents of the area surrounding 25 DeForest Avenue.

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The residents argued that inclusion of the site, with possible high-density multiple-family housing, would go against the city’s recently-adopted master plan revision and a vote by the planning board late last year against another proposed multiple-family development on the 25 DeForest Avenue site.

In that application, developer Mark Yeager presented a conceptual plan to expand the Gateway I Zone to the Bouras Building at 25 DeForest Avenue, and, in the process, make way for a combination four-level parking garage and townhouse complex, near the Bouras Building, at Beechwood Road and Euclid Avenue.

Resident Eric Mendelsohn of 102 Beechwood Road, who helped develop Summit’s sustainability Master Plan, had argued during Yeager’s presentation that the developer’s proposal was inconsistent with the City Master Plan because it created overdevelopment, went against the Master Plan's call for maintaining natural boundaries -- and existing buffer areas -- in the area of Gateway I, and was contrary to a desire in the Master Plan to “down zone” in several areas adjacent to the “B” business zone adjacent to the Gateway I Zone.

In his appearance at the planning board hearing on the fair share housing plan, Mendelsohn said he and his fellow residents were very much in support of affordable housing in Summit, but made arguments similar to those he made during the Yeager hearing, specifically that including 25 DeForest Avenue as one of the overlay zones and creating the possibility of multiple-family housing in the overlay zone would create too much density for the site.

Joseph H. Burgis of Burgis Associates, the City’s planning contractor, explained that creating an overlay zone over an existing zone gives a developer the option of doing something in zone other than that which currently is permitted in an existing zone.

Burgis and Michael A. Jedziniak of Jeffrey R. Surenian & Associates, the firm that negotiated the agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, an affordable housing advocacy group, indicated that a developer only would be given this alternative option if development currently on a site was to be torn down.

In response to a question by First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino, Jedziniak said if a developer hypothetically wanted to build a widget factory on the site of the Marco Polo restaurant he would be allowed to do so if a widget factory was among the alternative permitted uses in an overlay zone.

The Marco Polo site is another one of the eight areas that could include an overlay zone under terms of the fair share housing agreement.

Mendelsohn, in his remarks at the fair share housing plan hearing, said he and his neighbors were concerned that the proposed overlay zone was a “backdoor” that would create the type of high-density residential development envisioned in the Yeager proposal.

He said even though the plans for the eight overlay zones potentially would yield only 75 affordable housing units, it was possible as much as 250 residential units in total could be built.

The resident added that, if the planning board went along with the plan, it would, in effect be abdicating its zoning powers to Philip Caton, the special master appointed by state courts to oversee Summit’s negotiations with the Fair Share Housing Center.

Burgis said Caton had toured the City and the areas proposed for the overlay zones, and he added that the court master had supported inclusion of the 25 DeForest site because of its past multiple-family history.

Mendelsohn noted, however, that there had been no mention of the overlay zones when he sat on the Master Plan revision land use subcommittee.

He added that inclusion of the 25 DeForest site in the overlay zone list also meant that a developer possibly could win a zoning board decision in favor of high density residential development.

The resident urged the planning board to change the fair share housing agreement to find an alternative location for the 25 DeForest overlay zone designation, saying it was not a good idea to change restrictions previously placed on development of multifamily housing.

Resident Bernadette Miragliotta of 86 Beechwood Road said the planning board could accomplished what it desired to do in providing affordable housing without doing away with current structure coverage limits in areas such as 25 Deforest.

Jedziniak replied that, although the planning board could instruct him to restructure the list of proposed overlay zone areas, the city would be in a much stronger position in its final hearing before Caton if it did not change the current agreement.

He added that, after the courts approved the agreement, the board and the city probably could amend it to change the overlay zones and make other changes they desired.

The housing agreement expert added that, there was a concern that the Fair Share Housing Center might not accept changes in the agreement prior to the final hearing before Caton.

This, he said, might endanger the protection against affordable housing litigation until 2025 that would be afforded by the agreement.

Board members who spoke before the vote agreed with this reasoning and expressed a willingness to consider amendments to the plan after it is approved by the court master.

The experts also noted that the Summit Common Council must approve the fair share housing agreement before it goes before Caton. The deadline for that approval is the end of February.

The eight proposed zoning overlay areas are:

  • The current Salerno-Duane property on Broad Street and Park Avenue
  • A 4.2-acre tract on Park Avenue that currently is the site of a hardware store
  • The area of Park Place, Summit Avenue, Industrial Place, Broad Street and Walnut Street that currently includes gasoline stations and a number of other businesses
  • The Marco Polo site
  • 14.25 acres in the central business district in the area of Beechwood Road, Maple Street and Glenwood Place.
  • 25 DeForest Avenue
  • The area of Orchard Street and Park Avenue that currently includes a number of one-and-two-family dwellings.
  • The site of the Summit Italian-American Club on Morris Avenue. The experts said a conceptual drawing of a development including affordable housing on that site already has been presented.

Only the last two sites on the list are not currently zoned for multi-family housing, according to the experts.

Other residents commenting during the public hearing included Vito Gallo of 17 Sheridan Road, who spearheaded the development of Summit’s current senior citizen housing development.

Gallo called the housing element and Fair Share Plan the “final approval” in the revised Master Plan process and said it helps the City to meet its constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing.

He added it incentivizes both non-profit organizations and profit-making developers to construct affordable housing or contribute to the City’s affordable housing fund.

Gallo also said the plan as proposed meets the needs of the city’s diverse population and complies with existing zoning while fitting in with Summit’s designation as a Transit Village.

He noted that the 50 affordable units already envisioned by a non-profit entity blend into the surrounding neighborhood, with 25 percent set aside for senior citizens and 25 percent for rental of $800 to $1,200 per month to families, the majority of which, in all likelihood, would be headed by single females.

There also would be additional group homes for the disabled in the City under the overall housing plan, Gallo said.

Another speaker, the Rev. Dr. Denison D. Harrield, Jr., said that, although the agreement means the number of affordable units Summit is required to provide has been scaled down greatly that is not his major concern.

Most people advocating in the process, he said, only are interested in getting a home they can afford.

The crux of the settlement numbers, Harrield said, is that they only are benchmark figures, and the settlement will enable the city to “control its own destiny” without further costs to taxpayers.

“The key,” he added, is that Summit will be “aggressively and creatively pursuing affordable housing.”

When evaluating a task, the clergyman said, he asks is “is it needed, is it doable and is it the right thing, and this is it.”