Citing concerns with the proposed layout of four distinct buildings with streets between them in place of one continuous group of structures on a single sidewalk pad, the Roselle Park Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) denied the site plan for the application on 10 West Westfield Avenue, commonly known as the Sullivan property.
Monday night’s hour-long meeting was the second part of the application hearing for the Sullivan property. The first part was a three-and-a-quarter hour hearing in June that ended with the MLUB agreeing to meet with Sal Garcia, the principal of MAS Development Group, to work out issues with landscaping and signage. These were the two major variances requested by the applicant where the request was to have a higher sign than permitted and less landscaping than required for the property.
The beginning of the hearing on September 21st had MLUB Chair Loren Harms recap the meeting between the MLUB committee – consisting of himself, Al Nitche, and Jay Robaina – and Sal Garcia that occurred in late August. During that meeting, issues with landscaping and signage were discussed and hammered out with the committee requesting the main sign to the development be of similar height to that of the one at the Garwood Plaza on North Avenue. The sign to the proposed AutoZone store itself had concessions made that altered the style of lettering on the side of the building and – at the request of the committee – removed the triangle-shaped canopy over the store’s entrance. Additionally, the committee had reached an agreement with MAS Development regarding the landscaping, even though no details were provided publicly. It was announced, and confirmed by Mr. Garcia, that MAS Development was in favor of all recommendations made by the MLUB Committee.
Chairman Harms commented that the Board did not ask for any drawings since this was a preliminary application hearing and there was a commitment from Mr. Garcia and agreement from the committee on what was discussed.
MLUB Attorney Steve Mermin, who sat in for the Board’s regular attorney Mohamed Jalloh due to a conflict of interest, brought out the point that a final landscape plan would need to be agreed to by the MLUB in order to approve the Final Site Plan Application.
Board member Jerry Vitale had requested more information on a visual of the sign, stating that it would provide more perspective than simply dimensions. Chairman Harms respectfully stated, “On behalf of the committee that met with Mr. Garcia, we’re not going to go back and start nitpicking because the reason we had [that] meeting was [so] we could get these details out.”
Another MLUB member, Paul Baiamonte, asked if any consideration was given to adding an awning to make up for the removal of the triangular canopy. He was told that no such concession was asked of Mr. Garcia.
During the public hearing of the meeting, only three residents approached the microphone to speak with resident Christopher Whiteside asking if any automotive repair would be done on the premises or if AutoZone was simply an auto parts retailer. He as told that it was the latter. He also asked if there were any measure put in place that would address any impromptu oil changes or other on-the-spot quick repairs. He was told by the MLUB attorney that the Board could set conditions that there be restrictions on the property that there are no automotive repairs of any kind and that police can come on the property to enforce that decision.
Jacob Magiera approached the microphone and stated, “The residents and taxpayers are saying ‘enough is enough’. Put something where Sullivan Chevrolet is. Four years is too damn long.”
After the public hearing portion was closed, Mr. Mermin recapped that the original application was both a Preliminary and Final one and that there was a sub-division variance for four lots. Both of these were withdrawn and it became simply a Preliminary Application and retained its single lot condition. The MLUB Attorney also relayed the list of professionals who provided testimony for the application – an engineer, a planner, and an architect – noting his concern that a traffic expert, to deal with the vehicular flow in the area of Chestnut Street and Westfield Avenue, was not among them.
It was after this that the board members began the discussion publicly amongst themselves with Chairman Harms starting, “We had a great meeting with Mr. Garcia. The only thing I’m not liking is the site plan itself. Being that we’re putting up three buildings – because there’s an existing building now – the flow of pedestrians going from building to building, we don’t know really know what it is until the final plan comes down. That’s one reason why I don’t like the site plan itself [with] the buildings being separated.”
Mr. Harms pointed out his concern with the safety of the pedestrians going from building to building and his preference of having a continuous strip or series of structures on one sidewalk pad. He even referred to the plaza on First Avenue in Roselle and the Garwood Plaza. He concluded, “That’s my concern and that’s why I don’t like this site plan itself or the jumping around of the buildings. [This] being the preliminary, maybe we could think about doing something a little different in there when it came down to a final but that’s my concern.”
Mr. Nitche, the second member of the committee who met with MAS Development, stated his concern as well, saying, “I would like to see more of a continuum too that would give us a consistent look. If somebody else comes in there – and say it’s a shoe store on the end – they want a different look than AutoZone has, or somebody in the middle wants a different look than either one of those has, then we start to have a hodgepodge as opposed to a continuum neat looking stores . . . I think that makes a lot of sense and, to me, it gives a better utilization of the property and from a town point of view probably a better return on the investment that we’ve made.”
Mr. Robaina, asked, “If this current site plan is approved, does Mr. Garcia, as a developer, have the opportunity between the preliminary and the final to modify the positioning of the buildings so at least he can begin the project?”
Mr. Mermin responded, “The footprint that you see before you is the footprint that Mr. Garcia is currently proposing. This is the site plan that you are voting on – a three-structure site plan.”
When Mr. Robaina asked if MAS Development decided to modify the structures or their placement, what would that mean, the MLUB Attorney replied that such an action would start the process all over again for the applicant.
Mr. Baiamonte echoed the sentiment to have one plaza-style development, “I’m going to assume at this point that the buildings were designed in a fashion because there was a sub-division in place at some time. It would be nice to see the buildings as a linear building . . . could be multiple stories . . . but brought up to the streetscape to basically address the street and then invite the street instead of having all that parking.”
Mr. Baiamonte added that he was concerned with the possibility of having a canopy removed since it serves a functional as well as an aesthetic purpose. He remarked, referring to what was discussed between the MLUB committee and Mr. Garcia, “The other thing I’m a little concerned about [was] there was a lot of talk about what the signs are and what the landscaping may be or may not be, I also find that a little difficult to vote on as a variance without having more information.”
John Kennedy was the last Board member to contribute to the discussion, stating, “To follow-up on Mr. Magiera’s comments, yeah, I’m a tax paying resident like everyone else and I definitely want to see something there and I think we could get something done. But I also remember something that I thought about in speaking with my family about it is, we get one shot at this. We’ve got to make sure that what we’re going to do is something that everyone’s going to be happy with. I’m not totally against this set up here but I do think as you see in a lot of these projects going up where it is the one continuous [type]. In my opinion, it is more attractive and again as I’m thinking it through we definitely want to make sure we get it right because we have one chance at it. Once it goes up, that’s what’s going to be there and that’s what the legacy is going to be.”
After the discussion on the dais was concluded, Mr. Mermin asked MAS Development’s attorney if Mr. Garcia wanted to Board to vote on the application that evening or did MAS Development want to have another opportunity to present a different plan.
Mr. Garcia’s attorney simply responded, “No, we would like this application voted upon as it stands.”
With that Mr. Nitche made a motion, declaring, “I move that we reject the application as presented.”
This motion was seconded by Mr. Robaina.
The MLUB Attorney commented, “I just want to clarify, it’s not necessarily a rejection. It’s a denial of the preliminary site plan application.”
With that, the vote was taken and six members – Paul Baiamonte, Loren Harms, John Kennedy, Al Nitche, Jay Robaina, and Jerry Vitale – voted to deny the Preliminary Site Plan. Councilman Joseph Petrosky – who was legally allowed to listen in on the application and vote – and Owen Iungerman both voted to approve the application. Mr. Stephen, who had heard the first part of the application, was not present at this meeting.
After the meeting ended, although some board members were hopeful that MAS Development would return with a new plan, there was no telling whether that would occur as Mr. Garcia declined to comment on the decision or the development’s future status.