On April 14th, the Roselle Park Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB), after a nearly three-hour meeting, unanimously approved a proposed development at the former site of famed restaurant Domani’s, located at 230 West Westfield Avenue. A special meeting was called to hear the application with all legal requirements fulfilled due to a previous clerical error on the Board’s part at the last scheduled MLUB meeting in March.
The 27-unit luxury apartment complex will have three stories of nine apartments on each floor over a garage for the parking of residents’ vehicles. Each resident will be allowed two parking spaces in was termed tandem parking – similar to a two-car driveway – where one vehicle will be parked behind the other. There will be two handicap parking spaces for the development.
According to owner and developer Dominick Glynn, the complex will have full accommodations and amenities and each apartment will be a two-bedroom unit with a balcony. The yearly lease is expected to be from $1,900 to $2,300 a month and there will be no low-income units. The development will be fenced all around with a decorative fence on the front of the building which faces Westfield Avenue. The four-story complex will be a right-turn in and right-turn out only for entering and leaving.
Mr. Glynn stated that the development is geared to DINKs, an acronym that stands for ‘Two Incomes No Kids’, similar to the project at the Union Train Station.
The hearing had two components. The first aspect of the application was an interpretation of whether the ordinance relating to accepted use in the zone, allowed for residential units on the upper floors and no retail space on the first floor. If the interpretation was not in favor of the applicant, then the application would proceed to request a use variance with other requested relief. This two-part hearing had similar components to another hearing for Easy Fitness With Jeannie, a business about 350 yards away on West Clay Avenue (that hearing was held the following week on April 21st).
Among the numerous topics of concern were issues with storm water run-off, who is responsible for garbage & recycling pick-up, access to the complex for emergency responders, and lighting into neighboring properties. Additionally, an easement with a 60″ municipal pipe that runs next to the property and Phase I Environmental Site Assessment were discussed. Although the easement was not reflected on any deed other than the tax maps, the Borough Planner Victor E. Vinegra from Harbor Consultants, asked that some document giving rights to the municipality for access be drawn up to avoid any issues in the future should the municipality need to work on access it. Mr. Glynn stated that garbage and recycling will be placed in front of the complex on the curbs for the municipality to pick-up. Mr. Vinegra asked if an Environmental Phase I Assessment was performed for the property in order to identify the potential for contamination of a site by hazardous or toxic materials. Mark Rothman, the attorney for the applicant, stated that one might not have been done but would look to confirm and, if need be, have one done to satisfy the Board. It was decided that if anything is found in the property’s history, a Phase II Assessment might be required of the applicant.
Then the MLUB, as a Board of Adjustments with seven (7) members began their discussions on the interpretation phase of the hearing. Due to the fact that the complex will not have retail at the ground floor but, instead a garage for parking, the Board discussed whether the relevant ordinance, Ordinance 40-1603, could be interpreted to allow this particular development in the zone since such a complex is not specifically permitted. MLUB member Diane Kurz asked if the Board might get into any trouble later by voting in their interpretation.
MLUB Attorney Michael Tripadi stated, “You’re the board members who make that decision.”
Board member Carl Pluchino added that is why it is an interpretation.
MLUB Chair Loren Harms further addressed the issue, stating that the because the Borough Planner felt that the ordinance was ambiguous, the Board would make that decision. Mr. Harms said, “If we want something to go here and be done, then you accept it. If you don’t want it, then you don’t accept it, basically.”
Mr. Tripadi concurred with the statement that the ordinance was not very clear and that the Board would be setting precedence.
“That’s what I like about it,” Ms. Kurz then remarked, “I like the idea… about the opportunity to re-gentrify, to have that be something that other people that want to develop don’t have to go through those hurdles. I like that.”
There was some discussion on revising ordinance to remove ambiguity but that it would not have an effect on this particular application. Mr. Vinegra stated that his office could work with Mr. Pluchino, who is also the Borough Code Enforcement Officer, to re-write the ordinance to, as he put it ‘say we want residential’.
Additionally, Mr. Tripadi stated that if the Board did not grant the interpretation, then there would still be the use variance to hear and the hearing would continue. He said, “Just because you deny the interpretation, that doesn’t mean you deny the variance.”
There would be no Affordable Housing units at this development as was the case with AvalonBay Communities who sued the municipality in 2008 through a Builders’ Remedy lawsuit after the then Planning Board denied that developer their application which only had residential units and no retail on the first floor on what is known as the ‘Romerovski property’. AvalonBay sued claiming that they would be willing to satisfy COAH (Coalition On Affordable Housing) and that the Borough failed to satisfy COAH. That lawsuit was settled in 2009 with the municipality agreeing to allow the developer to only build residential units as well as a certain number of COAH units. To date, no construction has started on that site.
After two-and-a-half hours, Mr. Harms called for a vote to accept a motion on the interpretation to consider the application a Planning Board “as-of-right” application, where second floor apartments would be permitted use with no retail on the first floor. Mr. Tripadi added that if the Board voted ‘no’, they would be agreeing that it is not permitted and a use variance would be required.
Mr. Harms summed up the motion by saying, “We’re saying that it’s okay to have residential with no retail on the first floor as it states in the ordinance.”
With that a roll call was taken and the Board voted unanimously in favor of the interpretation. No variance component was needed. Mr. Tripadi confirmed, “The Board of Adjustments made a determination that the applicant has submitted an application that’s permitted use in this zone.”
The MLUB, then as a nine (9) member Planning Board, continued with the meeting to approve the application for a preliminary final site plan approval, three (3) bulk variances, and a minor subdivision approval ‘lot line’ adjustment. The approval would be contingent on the applicant meeting certain conditions. These conditions included:
- Having Mayor & Council outline issues necessary for COAH (even though the property will not have Affordable Housing units);
- Discussion about a possible fire pit which will be subject to requirements of the Building Inspector or Code Officer;
- A Storm Water Maintenance Plan;
- Condition regarding a Development Fee;
- Addressing spillage of site lighting to be detailed in a Lighting Plan;
- Presenting a Title Report regarding drainage easement;
- Additional language of possible approval by the governing body regarding easement;
- Submission of the existing environmental reports dealing with a Phase I Assessment which may later require a Phase II evaluation.
- Addressing safety issues which will necessitate discussions and arrangements with the police department and first responders to develop a safety response plan;
- Generic conditions meeting local county state approvals including NJDOT (New Jersey Department Of Transportation ) approval due to the fact that the development is on Route 28, a state highway; and
- Replenishing the escrow account
The application was voted on by all eight (8) sitting MLUB members and approved unanimously. The approval will be memorialized at the next scheduled MLUB meeting in May.
After the meeting, Mr. Glynn stated the development will take a little over a year since it will be a month before the MLUB finalizes its decision and then his engineers and architect will work on and submit their plans for approval. Once approved, construction will begin. Additionally, he stated that he still owns the liquor license for the closed restaurant but commented, “If somebody offers me money for it, I’ll sell it but I want to use it for something good in the town.”
In closing, Mr. Glynn said, “I’m happy with the decision and I look forward to developing a beautiful property in town.”