Business & Finance

Summit’s Central Business District Could See Minimum Two-Story Heights on Buildings; Design Standards for Area Also Reviewed

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SUMMIT, NJ—In order to encourage more residential development and to diversify uses of buildings in the city’s central business district, the Summit Planning Board next month may endorse an ordinance setting a minimum of two stories on buildings in the area.

Kevin Kain, the city’s planning consultant, endorsed the two-story concept at Monday’s planning board meeting, because, he said, one-story buildings in the business district were inefficient and inappropriate.

Existing one-story structures would be considered pre-existing, non-conforming uses, Kain added.

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He explained that those owning such structures who wished to modify them in the future most likely would be required to request a less-stringent “c” variance rather than a more-stringent “d” variance.

The two-story standard was questioned by board member and Common Councilman Gregory Drummond, who said it might impose two stringent a standard, for example, for a smaller investor whose building had been destroyed in a fire and could not afford to replace it with a two-story structure.

Summit Construction Official and board member Gary Lewis said, however, that as long as a building owner remained within the “existing floor plate” of a building it is unlikely the proposed new requirements would be too onerous for him.

In a straw poll of planning board members the two-story minimum was supported by six of the members and opposed by three.

Another proposed change in downtown building regulations would expand upon the current maximum of three stories totaling no more than 42 feet in height to allow for an additional 10 feet in height. However, with the increased height would come an additional setback requirement with a 1-1 ratio to the expanded height.

Kain called the proposed 52-foot height an appropriate use for the downtown business district, adding it was presuming the first floor would be retail and the second and subsequent floors would be residential.

The setback requirements, he said, would avoid the “canyon” effect of large buildings on the streetscape.

The 10-foot yardstick, however, would not necessarily result in an additional story, Lewis said, because the developer could divide the additional 10 feet in height any way he wanted in terms of stories.

Mayor Ellen Dickson said that she could see how the former Bagel Chateau property could, for example accommodate up to five stories, but on other streets that amount of stories would create a shadow effect on surrounding buildings.

On another topic, Kain endorsed design standards for the central business district that would encourage:

  • More extensive development at the street level;
  • Prohibition of parking between the sidewalk in front of a building and the structure;
  • Access to buildings from the street; and
  • Conforming proposed structures so they would be “compatible, harmonious and in context” with surrounding structures.

Drummond also had reservations about some of the standards, however, because he felt it would bring too many restrictions to the look of the downtown.

For example, he said, the Guggenheim Museum, which is one of the top landmarks in New York City, might not be allowed in Summit under the proposed standards.

Other board members said owners who felt the standards were too restrictive could be granted waivers if they were able to present a viable case for them.

A public discussion of the Summit Board of Education’s proposed temporary classroom trailers for the Franklin Elementary School, slated for Monday, was delayed until the planning board’s September 24 meeting at the school body’s request.

Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Wagenbach explained the school body did not need the planning body’s approval for its project but school officials had been receptive in the past to planning board suggestions on how to improve upon school projects.

The September 24 meeting, originally scheduled for 8pm, was moved up to 7:30 pm to allow the school presentation to fall first on the agenda.

Also on Sept. 24, planning board members are expected to take formal action on the changes to the central business district ordinance, to hear preliminary and final site plan presentations for driveway, parking and lighting improvements by Summit Parmley Company of 133 Summit Avenue and for a proposal by RBP Associates to combine two parking lots on properties at 311, 317, 321 and 333 Springfield Avenue.

The final two hearings are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

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