The Zoning Board of Adjustment narrowly rejected an application to construct a new two-family home on vacant lot on Newton Street.
A 4-3 vote to deny the application came after almost 90 minutes of testimony and questions during Monday night’s meeting.
Endless Property Management, LLC, applied for a minor site plan approval with a use “d” variance and bulk “c” variance for Block 222, Lot 2. The Roselle-based firm previously rehabilitated the adjacent home at 1810-14 Newton St. “down to the studs” but this application proposed new construction. The application was carried from the April 18 meeting.
Both the proposed new construction and the renovated home would be three-bedroom, two-family homes but there would be some differences. The renovated home has two front doors and no garage or parking. The new construction proposed a single front door — giving the appearance of a single-family home — with separate entrances beyond that, and a first-floor garage. Variances weren’t required for the rehabbed home because it was not razed and was a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
The neighborhood is comprised of multiple duplexes, including an 11-unit complex directly across the street, a string of three duplexes next door, and a four-unit complex near West Grand Avenue and behind the property on Whittier Avenue, Kaream Elbanan, manager of Endless Property Management, testified.
There was some discrepancy between what the applicant considered part of the neighborhood and the planner’s report, which only included Newton and Cottage streets. Toward the end of the meeting, just before a vote was taken, the applicant seemed to take issue with the planner’s report about what to consider to be part of the neighborhood and comparable homes. One commissioner cited the planner’s report as identifying 13 properties: seven single-family homes, three two-family homes, and two multi-family homes.
An issue for at least one commissioner was the 33 1/2 feet height of the proposed structure, despite the fact that a single-family home would be permitted to go to 40 feet and not require as significant setbacks. Before he cast his vote, Adrian Zapotocky said he had no objections to the the first-floor garage or the size of the apartment but to the height of the structure among surrounding homes.
Earlier, Elbanan described his application as “well-fitted to the location and the houses around it.” The original structure on the property was a duplex. A one-family home would not require variances but would be a hardship and inconsistent with the neighborhood, he said.
The application is ‘”conforming to what’s going on in the middle of town and what Rahway is trying to do,” Elbanan said. He expected rents would run slightly less than those found downtown. For example, if a two-bedroom rented for $1,800 downtown, he said the Newton Street home would probably be a little less, with added amenities, like a garage and a backyard, to attract families. The three-bedroom units would run about 1,500 square feet, substantially less than what could be built if it were a one-family home.
The applicant’s engineer, Wayne Ingram, said they could shave off about a foot or two of the garage and storage space behind it but by that point, there would not really be a master bedroom.
Many of the existing buildings don’t try to look like single-family homes and single families don’t pre-dominate the neighborhood, he said. “You’re not going to see…duplexes revert to single-family homes in the neighborhood,” Ingram said.
Before the vote came, there was an inquiry from a commissioner about potentially eliminating the garage, which would reduce the height and make it similar to the adjacent property. A 15-minute recess after testimony concluded allowed the applicant to confer with his attorney about the possibly but even if the application was shrunk by 10 feet, attorney Harvey Fruchter said it wouldn’t make it plausible.
A roll call vote came to 3-3 before Chairman William Hering cast a vote in favor of denying the application. A simple majority was necessary to deny the application but five of seven commissioners are necessary to approve an application. Also voting to deny the application were commissioners James Pellettiere, Laura Giacobbe and Zapotocky. Voting against denying the application were Joanne Gemenden, Joseph Gibilisco and first alternate Deborah Acevedo.
Hering conceded the applicant made a nice presentation but the proposal was just a little too much for the lot. “I have a hard time getting over” the laundry list of variances requested.
Before casting his vote, Pellettiere explained that he had difficulty getting past the concept of 12 bedrooms on two lots (three bedrooms on the current two-family application and three bedrooms on the already renovated two-family home next door).
For an application to return to the Zoning Board, attorney John Pidgeon said it must be determined by the board whether it constitutes a different enough application but doesn’t require any specific percentage.