On Wednesday Jan. 25, 2017, at 7:30 in the Council Chambers of the Municipal building, the Board of Adjustment is hearing a controversial appeal which involves tearing down a two and a half century old single family home at 1481 East Broad Street, and building two town houses with three units each. Many of my neighbors as well as myself object to the proposed usage, and we are asking you to consider our position, as well as the fact that the precedent this could set, and how that could affect you neighborhood. We are requesting that you attend the meeting and hear the case for yourself. We believe most of you will support our position.
This is not a minor matter, one that seemingly fits a board named the Board of “Adjustment.” It is, essentially, a zoning question. The land, approximately .98 acres, is classified as Zone RS-12, which is a single family home zone allowing no more than 3.07 building units per acre. The land is perfectly suited for this purpose, and it is relatively easy to envision three single family homes being built on the land. The builder is proposing to construct 6.09 units per acre. This is contra to the Master Plan of Westfield, which was last redone in 2009 and amended in 2013.
If you are not familiar with the concept of the Master Plan, it is a legally mandated process for the Town Government to undertake. It involves many expensive hours of professional work, the input from town officials, Public Hearings and Council votes. It is an imperfect process, but it reflects the best attempt of the town to control its destiny. You can learn more about the Master Plan process at: http://www.trenton250.org/learn/planning-101/what-is-a-master-plan/
The party requesting these variances, “Country Classics at Montgomery” of Hillsborough, NJ, is proposing to build six multifamily homes on a property zoned for single family homes. With the exception of a church on one side of the property, there is no multifamily housing on that side of East Broad Street until you get to the downtown area.
To build contra to the master plan would now set two markers on that side of East Broad Street, this property and the multifamily apartment’s downtown. It would support future arguments about precedent, and what the town actually allows. All the large properties on East Broad Street would become vulnerable to possible multifamily discussions. In fact, this could open any large property in town, or the combination of two adjacent properties, to a similar discussion. The risk is a loss of control set by at the Master Plan.
To understand the impact of this, consider the economics of this to the town. A higher population density increases costs to the town, most notably the cost of education. This units are being proposed for 3.5 stories each, these are not “downsizing” homes for empty nesters, who generally don’t want to have to climb stairs. Instead, these are opportunities to buy a new home in the Westfield School district for less than it would normally cost.
I welcome all who want to buy in Westfield and put their kids in the school system. But increasing density with a lower tax per unit only increases the financial burden on the rest of us.
The “purpose” is not the only variance requested; there are significant size requests that again belittle the phrase Board of “Adjustment.” Again, the builder is proposing to build 3.5 stories, while the current zoning permits 2.5 stories. Since the property sits at an angle across the street from my home, and is elevated to my property, the height effect will be exaggerated. Further, the current height limit is 32.75 feet, they are requesting 35.75 feet.
It’s not just a height issue. Current zoning permits coverage of 10 percent of the property. At 19.6 percent, it nearly doubles the norm.
It doesn’t stop there. The effect of building more home and building higher results in more square footage to sell on the property. The Maximum Floor Area Ratio, also called “Total Habitable Floor Space” request is for 36.1 percent of the property size, while the current regulation is 20 percent. It’s a request of 180 percent of what is allowed. Let’s be clear here; this is a much more profitable way to build.
Again, it doesn’t stop there. Because the number of people living on the property can be twice what would be in three single family homes, the builder needs to build a parking area on the property. If you are familiar with East Broad Street (think three lanes of traffic there, backed up a quarter mile at rush hour) you understand that you can’t park on street. So this results in a request for a “Maximum All Improvement Coverage Ratio” of 45 percent.1, versus the permitted 20 percent. This is especially important on a property that sits higher than many in the area. It reduces the amount of water that property can absorb, and increases the amount of water than runs off into the waste water drainage system.
While the engineering will be presented to show that no adjacent properties are flooded, and no basements are flooded, there are no guarantees that works out that way. Minimizing the Coverage Ratio to what is allowed is an important feature to the neighbors. This can be achieved by developing the property to the RS-12 standards of three single family homes, which would not require additional parking to be built on the property.
In summary, I believe what is being requested so far exceeds what is allowed that I have asked myself if it is really a negotiation tactic, hoping that the Board of Variance will grant the D-1 permitted usage with a smaller building and parking lot profile. I can’t answer that, but let me be clear: I object to the request for the permitted usage and I object to the oversized building conditions that are being requested. Since it is my problem today and could be your problem tomorrow, I request that you give serious consideration to attending the meeting and voicing you opinion. Thank you for your time and attention.