Tonight, Tuesday, November 27th, there will be a 7:30pm meeting of the Board of Adjustments at the Verona Community Center. Here is a very broad overview of the project that is being proposed at 176-200 Bloomfield Ave.
176-200 BLOOMFIELD AVE PROPOSED SITE FACTS:
The Developer, DHM2 LLC, purchased the 2 properties located at 176 and 200 Bloomfield Avenue for a total of $375,000. This property’s borders abut both residential and commercial properties.
The property with the 100+ year-old farmhouse was rezoned last year in Verona’s new master plan from a Residential zone to an “Extended Town Center” zone. The properties, together, are about 1.5 acres, are oddly shaped, and have a 50 ft. uphill elevation change from Bloomfield Avenue to the rear of the property (backing into Montclair Avenue and Westview Road residents’ backyards).
This property is currently a densely wooded lot, sitting upon a veritable mountain shielding the residents’ homes on Westview Road and Montclair Avenue from the noise, lights and the commercial nature of Bloomfield Avenue. The current owner is proposing to remove this entire mountain, by means of blasting, drilling and hammering for a period of 90 WORKING DAYS—weather permitting. (Approximately 4.5-5 months).
Out of the over 30 surrounding properties within the 200 foot radius that are required for a notice of application, 4 are within 10 foot of the property line. Of these four, three are residential, single family homes and one is commercial. Two of these residential homes, in particular, will be in severe danger should this project be approved. Still many of the other homes, as far as 500+ ft and beyond, will be dangerously shaken and their foundations’ integrity tested.
One Westview Road home, that rests upon the rear property line, (built in 1921) will be less than 5 feet from both blasting and the over 30 foot drop that will be created by the blasting, digging and excavation. This home, nearing a century old, has a mortar and stone foundation that rests upon the very same mountain that is to be removed.
Another home, this one on Montclair Avenue, (built in 1926) sits 10 foot off of the back of the mountain to be removed.
Testimony by the blasting expert averred to the safety of this intensive blasting and excavation, but knowledgeable building professionals—and common sense - tells us that these homes are in grave danger. Even the state of NJ blasting code (Code 12:190-7.11 Planning and preparation for blasts) stipulates that there must be a 25 ft. radius for all unauthorized persons from blast holes. By virtue of the proximately of the homes to the proposed excavation borders, this State Code cannot be upheld should even one person be inside of their home within said radius. These properties and others are in imminent danger. The people who live in these homes are in danger as well. Should this be adhered to, our neighbors, who may be sitting in their living room enjoying a coffee, will be within that 25 FT radius.
Additionally, the blasting expert, who has NOT conducted a full test of the mountains’ composition, has testified that many homes and businesses in the area will feel continual vibrations (those whose foundations are built directly on the mountain rock more so) and will hear their glassware, floors, etc. shaking throughout each day, during these blasts. Imagine this constant stress and upset for approximately FIVE months.
Most of the single-family residential homes surrounding this property were built in the 1920’s. At least 2 as far back as 1891, many in the 1910’s and one or two built as late as 1951. Each of these properties foundations rests upon the mountain to be blasted and removed.
The residents of Montclair Avenue and Westview Road (both zoned as residential properties) include 20 children, ages ranging from infant to high-school teens, with many families having multiple pets (mostly cats and dogs, but a couple of guinea pigs too). Blast vibration waves shake people, animals, trees, buildings, roads, underground pipes, and any other natural or man-made installations. Blast vibrations can startle, upset, and have caustic effects on both people and animals.
Across the street, westward, is Everett Field, where there are daily games, practice sessions and community tournaments for softball, baseball and football. Families are very concerned about their children being within range of the blasting, as well as the accessibility to the field, where parents drop off their children on Westview and Elmwood Roads. This five month blasting cycle could span through both baseball/softball and football seasons. Within 50 feet off of the property line rests the ARC Home. Six men with intellectual and developmental challenges, and a staff of aides must also endure this upset.
And there are a number of concerned surrounding business owners that know that their business will be interrupted, if not entirely lost by this activity. Current business owners at the Eastern portion of Verona are very concerned that their patrons will not be able to frequent their stores or services and will find alternative service, free from traffic and blasting noise.
Besides the expected damages that stem from the blasting, drilling and hammering (foundation cracks, windows breaking, shifting beams and headers of homes, and cracks throughout plaster walls), there are also environmental impacts that have been completely ignored: Incessant noise, erosion and water runoff issues, death of plants and animals, dust, the change in air quality, increased radon that will be released from the unearthed mountain, and water quality issues. Water quality can be affected by soil erosion, weathering of newly exposed soils that could cause leaching and oxidation that could release chemicals into the water. Water used to control dust could deposit dissolved salts and chemicals on the surface, allowing the salts and chemicals to enter surface water systems.
And lastly there is a quality of life issue for those residents, renters, and business owners in the surrounding area. The traffic, the noise, the upset and fear that one’s home is not safe on a daily basis are acutely distressing and troubling. The blasting and construction will also force a need to shut down certain utilities for undetermined stretches of time. So residents, local businesses and surrounding streets will have to endure the possibility of unexpected shutdowns of power, gas or water at any time. The contractors do not have to notify the people of the area of such shutdowns, they must only notify the utility companies.
This project would change the entire dynamic of these current residents’ daily existence. And not just theirs. This noise will reverberate throughout town - especially on overcast days, when the cloud line will act to acoustically enhance the blasts. Both the Brookdale and Laning Avenue schools are well within the range that will experience the noise and upset. Traffic snares on Bloomfield Avenue WILL be considerable.
The developer claims that they will be able to clear this land, approximately 25,000-30,000 Cubic yards of earth, in a matter of 4.5-5 months. According to their estimation, this would mean that 1700+ truckloads would be removed from the site. 1700 truckloads in 5 months would mean at least one load pulling onto—and at least one truck off of Bloomfield Avenue every ½ hour. There will be traffic stoppage.
After the blasting, there will be rock removal, further excavation and construction (digging on public roads will occur for unspecified periods of time to tie into public works as well) that the developer estimates will go on for approximately TWO YEARS.
THE PLANNED BUILDING:
DMH2 LLC plans to leave the steep drop off in place after their blasting and excavation. Their plan puts dangerously oversized retaining walls (OVER 26 FEET HIGH at certain points) to literally RETAIN the rock and soil surrounding their proposed structure. Again, there are homes that once looked at a natural backdrop of trees that will now be teetering atop this wall and severe drop-off. The builder has asked for 7+ variances including one for this proposed wall and one for removing ALL of the trees from the site, including those that Verona town code requires to be left on a 15 foot buffer.
Down below this stark wall, the builder proposes a 9000 square foot building which would house 7000 internal sq. ft. of retail space on the first floor, and 2 additional floors above, having 14 two bedroom, two bathroom RENTAL apartments. Each apartment, based upon the sq. footage available, would be approximately 1150+ sq. ft. in size.
Currently, Verona has numerous buildings/lots with vacant retail spaces plaguing Bloomfield Avenue. It can be construed by this FACT that adding additional space offers nothing to the township in the way of needed space for new business. In addition, the retail space available (7000 square feet) may be divided up by as many as four different renters. This is NOT going to bring a tax benefit to our township. We’re not expecting small retail, small restaurant space, spas or salons to be considered RATABLES. They will not lower our property tax by one dollar. However, the services that this new space requires in terms of traffic, public school enrollment, and safety oversight by local police and fire officials, may actually add to our burgeoning tax bills.
The Verona Master Plan was rewritten not even a year ago. This book of codes and zoning laws was modernized and updated to keep up with the vast changes that Verona and building technology has undergone in the past 25 years. DHM2 is nonetheless asking for relief from 7+ of these modernized codes in the form of variances. They have also left an open appeal to add additional variances, if deemed necessary during their application.
The one town code they have NOT asked for relief from (to date) is CODE 150-16.8 which reads: In the interpretation and application of the provisions of this ordinance, they shall be held to the minimum requirements for the promotion of HEALTH, SAFETY, MORALS and GENERAL WELFARE. It is not intended to interfere with or abrogate or annul other rules, regulations or ordinances, provided that where this ordinance imposes greater restrictions, the provisions of this ordinance shall apply.
That Verona wants to thrive as a town and become a destination point in others’ travels is clear and well supported by the residents, however, not at the expense of health, safety, morals and general welfare. Verona Code itself defines that no project is worth overstepping these critical precepts. This proposed building will not add anything to enhance the greater good of Verona. And it certainly won’t do so without denying far many more individuals, families and business owners of living in town free from danger, health hazards and a complete loss of quality of life. In addition, Verona will hamper other struggling business owners’ livelihoods in the name of creating more commercial space in a town already saturated with commercial vacancies.
The NEXT Board of Adjustments meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 27th, 7:30pm at the Verona Community Center. At that meeting, the developer plans to bring a tree specialist in to discuss how the trees around blasting zones won’t survive, and therefore must all be taken down. Their Planner will also be testifying.
There is a strong likelihood that DMH2 LLC, the developer, will complete their testimony at this meeting. At that point, the attorney and planner that represent some residents will present their arguments against the proposed building. I estimate that the LAST meeting (likely to be scheduled in either December or January) will be the meeting in which the Board of Adjustments will vote. At that meeting, Verona residents, business owners and renters are allowed to stand up, and state their opinion of this proposal. Their opinion need not be a legal argument. It can be an emotional one, a green one, a concern for the residents, their pets, their quality of life, the traffic, the Verona baseball league, parking or simply all of the above—just a concern for the greater good of the Verona.
We invite all of you to attend both this, and the next and last meetings to speak your mind and let the Board of Adjustments know that this project is inappropriate for the space and the neighborhood.
Please join our Facebook Group “Verona Against Blasting and Overdevelopment” to keep up on any new information and scheduling that becomes available.
Guest Columnist Jessica Pearson is a concerned resident of Verona, NJ.
You can reach Jessica through the Facebook group and message her there.
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is NOT responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.