Thursday, July 27, 2006

South Avenue Hearing Continues

A proposal to build 64 two-bedroom units on South Avenue morphed into 20 one-bedroom and 44 two-bedroom units as the Zoning Board of Adjustment continued the case on Wednesday (July 26, 2006).

The change would solve the problem of one-third of the proposed town homes being below the minimum floor space required in the original plan. Still outstanding are parking issues and the fact that the residential project violates the “light industrial” zoning for the site.

South Avenue business owner Sal Carfaro and his experts on planning, traffic and architecture faced tough questioning from Zoning Board members in the four-hour session that was carried over from the July 5, 2006 meeting where site engineer Victor Vinegra began testimony on how the project, just a short walk from the Netherwood train station, supported state and local goals for transit-oriented development.

Because commuters could take the train or hop on a Manhattan-bound bus across the street, Vinegra said the project should not have to meet a requirement for two parking spaces per unit. Carfaro wants to have 107 parking spaces, 55 in an underground garage, based on the assumption that residents in the proposed building will not need the required 128 parking spaces.

On Wednesday, the board heard testimony from traffic expert Elizabeth Dolan, architect Lucio DiLeo and planner Michael Jovishoff that again stressed the quarter-mile proximity of the Netherwood train station and the trend toward “smart growth” and transit-oriented development.

But BOA Chairwoman Sally Hughes, board attorney Richard Olive and members questioned testimony based on estimations of traffic and other issues without any actual fact-gathering at the site. When Jovishoff responded to resident Tony Rucker by saying he drove, rather than walked, the distance between the site and the train station, a capacity crowd in City Hall Library broke into laughter.

Rucker’s point, and that of others, was that the experts had not checked the actual conditions on South Avenue but were relying on abstract formulas for discerning the project’s impact.

Jovishoff drew fire from Olive, who attempted to poke holes in the planner’s argument that the present “light industrial” zone on South Avenue would benefit from increased residential development. Jovishoff said the new project met the intent of the city’s master plan to move toward transit-oriented development, but Olive asked why the 2002 zoning ordinance then did not change the designation from light industrial to another use.

Hughes sought answers on why the project did not include a first-floor retail component or more “green” aspects such as incorporating solar energy.

Among other questions from residents, William Michelson questioned whether the developer knew that a freight line might be coming in along with the passenger line that runs behind the property. He also said the present industrial use did not evoke the kind of social service response that a dense residential use might generate, such as police calls and domestic violence incidents.

Nancy Piwowar questioned the project’s ability to meet accessibility requirements of the Federal Fair Housing Act, but the developer’s attorney, Donna Jennings, said all federal, state, county and municipal requirements would be met.

The meeting ran past 11 p.m. and Hughes announced it will be continued on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library without any further public notice.

--Bernice Paglia


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