WESTFIELD, NJ—The Westfield Board of Adjustment on Wednesday approved the application of RVM Family LLC to construct a new veterinary hospital on the site of the Westfield Veterinary Group at 562 Springfield Avenue.
However, that approval is contingent on the completion of a developer’s agreement between the veterinary group and the Town of Westfield that would assure that the applicant adheres to phasing guidelines for the project and abides by certain other zoning board restrictions.
The agreement, which would be drawn up by Town Planner William Drew, the town engineer and other officials and signed by Westfield officials and the veterinarians and their legal representatives, would have to be approved by the board of adjustment before the application’s approval is finalized.
The veterinary group wishes to demolish the existing two-story veterinary hospital and a separate building which houses a kennel to make way for a three-story structure that would house only a veterinary hospital and offices.
Zoning board attorney, Vincent Loughlin, advised the board to seek the developer’s agreement, with construction contracts attached, due to the fact that the veterinarians, as part of the “phasing plan” for construction want to keep their current business in operation while the new facility is being built.
He said the town has seen many construction projects go on long after the promised completion date and he did not want to see the board approve the unusual temporary variance to keep a business running while a new facility is built without some guarantees.
The applicant’s engineer, Thomas Quinn of Scotch Plains, outlined a six-phase construction plan that, he said, would stretch over 15 months.
Quinn added, however, that he had been given the 15-month figure by a construction contractor in e-mails and had not actually spoken to the contractor.
Dr. Thomas Maus, one of the applicants, told Loughlin that his brother, who had been in the construction field his whole life, had provided the information used in the phasing plan.
Loughlin was not confident “hearsay” about information provided by the brother of the applicant could be relied upon in determining if the phasing schedule would be followed.
He said there also should be a pre-construction dialogue between town officials and contractors and other representatives of the applicant.
The board attorney also called for an escrow account with bonding in case the existing facility was not demolished as planned.
In addition to the developer’s agreement requirement, the zoning body’s approval also was conditioned on discontinuation of the boarding facility currently on the property, a ban on radioactive materials and a crematorium on the site and approval by the Union County Planning Board and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Although the county had approved the application, Drew questioned a provision by the county that a portion of the Springfield Avenue right-of-way in front of the hospital be dedicated to the town rather than the county.
He believed the right-of-way should be dedicated as county property since Springfield Avenue is a county rather than a town road.
In order to meet parking variances sought by the veterinary group, board chairman, William Heinbokel, said the applicant should be required to live up to assurances made by Maus that the veterinary group would not go beyond its current roster of 45 employees unless its business expanded once the new facility was in operation.
Maintaining the 45-employee roster, he said, with employees working in two shifts, would help ensure the new facility could operate efficiently with the proposed 59 parking spaces rather than the 81 spaces required by the town’s zoning ordinance.
Aside, from the conditions for the application, however, board members were in favor of the proposal.
Heinbokel said the applicants currently had to do business in a facility “retrofitted” to accommodate its uses, whereas the proposed state-of-the-art facility would be “much more holistic.”
“This is a well-thought-out plan that will vastly improve the use,” said board member, Andy Wasserman.
He praised the elimination of the kennel and reconfiguration of the current haphazard traffic pattern along with relocation of the animal hospital from the front to the rear of the property.
Board member, Mark Doherty, said the plan would improve the quality and service of the facility.
In reviewing the plans for the site, applicant planner, John McDonough, said, “It is good planning to allow uses to evolve.”
He noted the new hospital would combine all the facilities in one state-of-the-art building, the parking lot would contain more lighting, there would be better traffic circulation and the renovated site would contain 17 additional plants, most of which would be dogwoods.
The proposal’s call for a five-foot setback rather than the required 55-feet, he said, would not change the site much because the new building would be constructed over an existing paved area.
In fact, he added, the plan would not increase the impervious coverage of the site.
Although the phasing plan caused him some concern about the safety of employees and clients during construction, board vice president, Chris Masciale, said the developer’s agreements and other requirements for town oversight assured the project would be done correctly.