Real Estate

Westfield Board of Adjustment Holds Final Hearing for Townhouse Project

J. Michael Petry, a civil engineer and planner, was the last witness to testify on behalf of the Robinson family on Carol Road. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
Petry was cross-examined by attorney Jon Schmidt, who represents the applicant. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna

WESTFIELD, NJ – The Westfield Board of Adjustment heard the final witness during its sixth hearing for Country Classics’ proposed townhouses at Monday night’s special meeting. The applicant seeks to build six multi-family, age-restricted townhouses at 1481 East Broad Street.

Although it was rumored that the board would make a decision at Monday night’s meeting, the members agreed to postpone their decision until the Sept. 11 meeting due to the absence of board member Robert Whitehead.

Instead, attorney Richard Schkolnick, who represents the Robinson family on Carol Road, presented his final witness, civil planner and professional engineer J. Michael Petry. Petry said there is no evidence that the property, where the Pierson-Clark home currently exists, can take on the density of such a project.

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“It doesn’t relate to the opposite side of East Broad Street,” Petry said. “As the land use map clearly indicates, this side of East Broad is exclusively single-family. The proposed use would be both intrusive and, in my opinion, inappropriate.”

Petry said that the proposed density is inappropriate to the zone, the parking lot proposed for the property would end nine feet from his client’s yard, the townhouses exceed building coverage standards, the townhouses would increase traffic and that the intensity of the proposed building’s height cannot be blocked. The maximum building height per ordinance is 32.75 feet and the proposed building height is 35.75 feet.

“Due to the nature of property for those over 55, it’s indicated the same number of humans would be located on this development if it were subdivided into three lots,” board member William E. Heinbockel asked. “Could you comment to the intensity of single-family homes versus the proposed multi-family structure?”

Petry said it’s a misconception that those older than 55 live without children and that the size of the units, three bedrooms with a den, must be considered.

“The onslaught of people that move into a new development are generally people in that 55 to 60 range who are more active and may still have college-age kids who are coming home,” Petry said. “Coming home turns into a few years to pay off those loans. The occupancy over time will be lessened, but what happens to the 55-year-old parents without kids that move into this development? Pretty soon these people have grandchildren being dropped off. You’ll start to find a different type of movement in terms of traffic patterns and activity.”

Following Petry’s testimony, he was questioned by Jon Schmidt, an attorney representing the applicant.

After the cross-examination, about 15 residents addressed the board to voice their concerns regarding the proposed project. One of the first speakers, Neal Acito, attempted to argue against the project based on the historic significance of the Pierson-Clark home, which was built in 1755. The board said they could not consider the property’s historic significance because it is not a designated historic site.

“The board of adjustment is not permitted to consider historic significance as a factor when determining land appropriateness and use,” board member V. Laughlin said.

Although Acito was unable to speak of the specific property’s historic significance, he did mention the history of the town as a whole.

“We’re hitting the tipping point and this is it,” Acito said. “This is not consistent with the master plan. You’re wondering when colonial Westfield ceases to be colonial Westfield and become just another town? This is it. This is the one.”

Other residents repeatedly mentioned the traffic impact, the inconsistencies with the town’s master plan, the density of the lot, parking concerns and more. Most were questioned by Schmidt following their statements, resulting in a meeting that lasted about four hours.

“If you allow this, it’s like opening Pandora’s Box,” resident Michael Blancato said. “Once it’s open, how are you going to fit us back into that box? The thing about Pandora’s Box is, what’s left in that box is hope. I hope that you guys realize the community is against this. I hope you realize that there could be a major traffic impact here. I hope you realize that this is a neighborhood. I hope you consider what everyone out here is doing and I hope you think about the master plan and how it was investigated in 2013 and since then.”

The Westfield Board of Adjustment plans to announce a decision about the application at its Sept. 11 meeting. The application will most likely be the first issue addressed at that meeting, Heinbockel said.

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