WESTFIELD, NJ – The Westfield Board of Adjustment held its third hearing regarding Country Classics’ application of a proposed multi-family, 55+ age-restricted townhouse project on East Broad Street, on Wednesday evening as several core issues were presented in detail by witnesses and through cross examination with approximately 50 local residents in attendance.
However, for a third consecutive meeting, a notification error interrupted the proceedings after it was determined that there was an undocumented increase of approximately two percent in the floor area ratio (FAR) in the proposed plan during the cross examination stage of the hearing. The increase in the FAR from 36.1 percent to 36.8 percent was made to accommodate three elevators in each building. The adjustment to the floor plan size, which was not presented to the board in advance of the hearing, resulted in a 30-minute deliberation between the board and applicant on whether or not to postpone the meeting.
“I’m a little concerned that it’s unfair to the applicant and objector to move forward with this [hearing] since our town engineer has not had an opportunity to review this,” said Westfield BOA Chairman William Heinbokel, who explained that a decision could not be reached due to the notification failure.
Attorneys representing both the applicant and objector were both in agreement that such a small change in percentage to the floor plan should not result in the postponement of the hearing, which most likely would not render a final decision until a future date anyway.
“With this group of professionals, I’d expect a higher standard,” said Robert Whitehead, a member on the Westfield Board of Adjustment, who was critical of the applicant. “This professional team should have been much more prepared to present this application than for something like this to come up at such a late stage in the game.”
The board ultimately voted unanimously to allow the proceedings to continue, but indicated if the proposed changes proved to be substantial, the hearing could end prematurely.
Following the vote to continue, several people residing near the proposed project on East Broad Street voiced their concerns while questioning Scott Van Cleef, vice president of Country Classics, on his testimony and eventual plan for Country Classics. Residents honed in on areas such as the traffic flow impact, transportation accommodations and community centers for residents at the multi-family home and identifying how the housing association members would be selected.
John Schmidt, an attorney representing the applicant, introduced two key witnesses including a professional engineer and real estate expert.
Nicholas Moreno, an engineering graduate from Drexel University who surveyed the site of the historic property known as the Daniel Pierson home, one of Westfield’s oldest houses, was the first to testify. Through more than 30 pictures, Moreno documented a great deal of deterioration throughout the building from the roof to the infrastructure. WIthout putting a dollar amount on the repair costs, Moreno indicated that it is a property that would require a substantial investment to fix.
A persuading testimony from the second witness, Frank Isoldi, a Westfield-based real estate broker at Coldwell Banker, gave some legs to the applicant’s proposal for a multi-family project.
“There is definitely a niche and a need for multi-family homes in 55-and-older communities in Westfield,” said Isoldi, who said he was not compensated nor involved in the Country Classics’ proposed project. “Convenience factors would make this a suitable area for residents who are looking to downsize. Most of my clients that I am working with [in this age demographic] are looking to move to multi-family homes because of the maintenance and ease.”
Isoldi added that this is an opportunity for Westfield residents to suit their evolving needs without moving out of town.
Responding to questioning from residents following his testimony, Isoldi noted that he hasn’t shown any of his clients seeking similar homes in Westfield yet, because there isn’t anything currently available in the market in town.
Anton Gerber, an East Broad Street resident, voiced his concerns to Isoldi about the potential impact of property values in the proximity of the area of multi-family complexes. Gerber then asked if there was an estimate before being met with a quick objection from Schmidt because Isoldi was not brought in as a property valuation expert and the board agreed.
Upon introducing its next witness, the applicant’s engineer, the board decided to end its meeting at 10:30 p.m. as the next testimony was expected to exceed an hour.
The next meeting on this proposed multi-family unit is scheduled for Wednesday, April 26.