Summit Planning Board Unanimously Endorses Fair Share Housing Ordinance Amended to Address Resident Objections Regarding DeForest Ave. 'Overlay Zone'

The designation of an affordable housing 'overlay zone' in the DeForest Avenue area drew neighborhood concerns. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Planning Board has endorsed an ordinance to comply with the City’s recent agreement on affordable housing, but that ordinance has been amended, apparently to assure that objections of residents of the area of 25 DeForest Avenue are overcome.

When the Planning Board decided to go along with the agreement on affordable housing between the City and the Fair Share Housing Center in January, one of the linchpins to that agreement with the creation of “overlay zones” -- eight areas of the City that could allow for affordable housing.

Joseph H. Burgis of Burgis Associates, the City’s planning contractor, said at the January meeting that creating an "overlay zone" -- placing it 'over' an existing zone -- would give a developer the option of doing something in a zone other that which currently was permitted in that zone.

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It was indicated at that time that a developer would only be given this alternative option if development on a site was torn down.

However, the possible density of housing that could occur in one of the originally-proposed eight overlay zones -- zone surrounding 25 DeForest Avenue -- was opposed in January by residents of the area.

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, and a vote by the Planning Board late in 2016 against a proposed, multiple-family development on the 25 DeForest Avenue site.

That conceptual plan, by developer Mark Yeager, would have expanded the Gateway I Zone to the site of the Bouras Building at 25 DeForest Avenue and, in the process, made way for a combination four-level parking garage and townhouse complex, near the Bouras Building, at Beechwood Road and Euclid Avenue.

Following its endorsement of the Fair Share Housing Agreement, the Planning Board appointed a subcommittee to review its options.

Going along with recommendations of that subcommittee, the Board voted at its March meeting to reduce the number of proposed overlay zones from eight to seven. This would mean the combination of overlay zones on the current Salerno-Duane property on Broad Street and Park Avenue and a 4.2-acre tract on Park Avenue that currently is the site of a hardware store.

It also decided to incorporate the zoning changes that would go along with the Fair Share Housing Agreement into the City zoning ordinance.

However, and perhaps of most interest to the residents of the area surrounding 25 DeForest Avenue, the planning body endorsed adoption of design standards targeting the overlay zones that would take into account historical development and massing in an area.

Among other goals, it also would encourage multi-story development and the inclusion of a substantial amount of glass on retail space to be included in any development to give pedestrians a better view inside stores. 

Planning board chairman William Anderson, a member of the subcommittee, said it was his understanding that the subcommittee wanted to satisfy the concerns of the DeForest Avenue residents while taking into account the rest of the City.

City assistant engineer and subcommittee member Rick Matias added, however, that it was his understanding that the design standards were meant to encourage developers to follow certain guidelines without making the guidelines into requirements.

However, fellow subcommittee member Jennifer Balson-Alvarez said she understood the standards to be more obligatory, in order to give potential developers a better idea what to expect when they came before the planning board for approval of a project.

Anderson replied that he believed the provisions were aimed at trying to strike a balance between preserving neighborhoods and opening up the planning body to potential litigation.

Burgis said the Board did not want to make affordable housing development “cost generative,” rather to create the ability for cost-effective, affordable homes.

He added that the Board should retain the specificity of the guidelines, yet encourage affordable housing development without having the design parameters impede this development.

The proposed ordinance is expected to go before the Summit Common Council for introduction on April 4, with the Council returning it to the Planning Board with its suggestions and comments, and possible subsequent adoption by the Council at its first meeting in May.

Burgis said the ordinance would have to come back to the Planning Board after its Council introduction so that the planners could determine if it was consistent with the newly-revised Master Plan.

In response to a question from Planning Board counsel Clifford Gibbons, the City planner said the proposed overlay zone design standards were meant to augment -- rather than supersede -- existing City design standards.

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