WESTFIELD, NJ — A .41-acre property on Mountain Avenue that now accommodates one home is anticipated to accommodate two residences.
On Monday, the Planning Board approved a subdivision and series of variances for the property at 444 Mountain Ave. as the owner and his experts told the board that he would be keeping an historic home located on the land. The board approved the application by a 6-2 vote.
“Two fully conforming lots could be obtained via demolition of the existing home,” said Nicholas Graviano, a planner hired by the homeowners, Michael and Roseann Hennessey. “The applicant seeks to restore the existing dwelling, which adds character to the neighborhood.”
The board would be legally required to approve a fully conforming subdivision.
Michael Hennessey, who lives at the home, told the board that he would restore the home, originally built in 1921, while keeping with the “style of the period.” On the newly created plot, Hennessy said, he hopes to build a Victorian style house with a wraparound front porch.
“Our plan is to construct a new house for our family that captures the charm and beauty of our neighborhood, and to build a new colonial style home with the hope that one of our children would move into it,” Michael Hennessey said.
The application calls for a variance for front yard setback of 9.42 feet where the local regulation allows for 40 feet, according to the agenda.
The ordinance requires a minimum lot depth of 120 feet where the Hennesseys proposed 78.52 feet, and the ordinance allows for a maximum driveway width of 24 feet where the Hennesseys proposed 26 feet, the agenda states.
Several neighbors objected to the proposal, including Mountain Avenue resident Gordon Vickers.
“It will represent a very significant change in the neighborhood,” Vickers said. “You need only look at the adjacent lot at 450 Mountain Avenue, which is a very significant property.”
While Mayor Shelley Brindle and Councilwoman Linda Habgood, both planning board members, voted against subdivision, the board’s majority approved the measure.
Board member Michael LaPlace noted that the town’s recent master plan reexamination report, an update to the town’s guiding document for development, calls for preserving existing historic homes.
“It’s a large lot, and I would say the worst-case scenario would be for the large lot to accommodate a new house and the existing house be torn down,” LaPlace said.
Brindle said she was uncomfortable with the number of variances.
“I’m very much in favor of preserving historic structures,” Brindle added. “But this solution seems a little unusual and out of the ordinary.”
As reported, subdivisions and the subsequent teardowns that typically follow have been highly unpopular in Westfield in recent years.
Habgood said that despite the promise of historic preservation, the owner didn’t offer to historically designate the residence. She also discussed concerns about the traffic impacts of adding a new home.
“That section of Mountain Avenue is a very, very difficult traffic pattern,” Habgood said. “There are two blind curves with people driving around there.”
Habgood also said increasing the amount of “impervious coverage” on the property — a reference to surfaces that cannot absorb water — could exacerbate flooding in the area.
“The water issue is real,” Habgood said. “As you go down Euclid [Avenue] I know a number of neighbors who have had backup problems.”
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