WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Planning Board approved an application filed by Villane Builders for a subdivision with a frontage variance at 621 Fairfield Circle in a five to four vote at Monday’s Planning Board meeting.

According to testimony from the applicant’s planning consultant, Peter G. Steck, the variance on the frontage requirement is a justified hardship because the property is situated on a curved lot. Steck went on to point out other, similarly situated homes in Westfield that have substandard frontages.

Steck, along with the applicant’s site planner William Hollows and the applicant’s architect, Gregory Ralph, provided testimony and visuals to demonstrate the applicant’s desire to build the homes in a manner that did not disrupt the overall look of the neighborhood.

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“The reason we want to show the design is because we want to show that we are sensitive to the character of the neighborhood,”  Steck said.

The conceptual drawings showed garages located at the back of the house as well as front porches. According to the applicant’s legal team, these features mimic other homes in the neighborhood.

Residents from Fairfield Circle and neighboring streets spoke during the public comments section of the meeting and all expressed concern over the subdivision and building plans. “It really breaks my heart, living in an 1890 Victorian [inaudible] to see another old house in the neighborhood come down,” said Donna Perch, who lives on neighboring Carleton Road.

“I am really concerned when I look at these houses being shoehorned into these beautiful, old neighborhoods,” said Fairfield Circle resident Pete Demers. “It just doesn’t fit the character of what Fairfield Circle is.”

“It’s not a matter of shoehorning,” said the applicant’s attorney, Steven Hehl, who went on to explain that, outside of the frontage variance, the two homes would be within all town ordinance regulations.

Board member Anastasia Harrison voted against the application.

“One of the problems I have is that renderings are just paper and ink,” she said before detailing the architecture of older homes in the area. “What I am trying to appeal to is how can we develop homes moving forward to the future so that they actually feel more in kind with what was here as opposed to giving us what’s now. What’s now is just so plastic and square.”

Harrison later went on to explain her vote by citing the lack of greenery and open space between homes.

“Large homes on a piece of property that have a lot of green space around them have a certain feel and character,” she said, adding that her vote against the application is due to the “lack of negative space” that she sees happening all over Westfield.

“As you all can see, this is a very emotional issue,” said board chairman Robert Newell. “I’ve been on the board a long time and I’ve seen the results of what we can and cannot do,” he said. “I personally object to large houses being put on smaller lots and I object to a lot of the architecture we see today and the size of these houses, but that’s more of an issue for the master plan and the leaders in the community to change the ordinance, to modify the ordinance to not allow certain properties to be built and right now, these properties are allowed to be built.” Newell voted to approve the application.

The next planning board meeting is March 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Westfield Municipal Building. Current agenda items for the March 5 meeting include the application from Andrew and Heather Stillufsen for a subdivision at 667 Fourth Avenue along with Alfa Realty Management, LLC’s appeal for the property at 414 Central Avenue. Both appeals were carried from Monday’s meeting to the March 5 meeting.