Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zoning Board Begins South Avenue Development Hearings

Late Wednesday (July 5, 2006), the Zoning Board began hearing a proposal to build 64 town homes in a four-story structure on South Ave near the Netherwood train station.

Maxim Development Group plans to demolish an existing auto body shop to build the transit-friendly complex, but needs variances for parking spaces, density, residential use, minimum livable floor space and open space. If the board grants the exceptions, the developer will then submit detailed site plans for approval.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board agreed to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. July 26 in City Hall Library to continue the case. Testimony did not begin Wednesday until after the board’s usual 10:30 p.m. deadline, but site engineer Victor E. Vinegra quickly summed up his reasons why the applicant needed only 107 parking spaces instead of the 128 required.

Holding up a red book titled “Parking Generation,” he said old formulas were based on a mix of suburban and urban needs for cars, but that new studies in the book show city dwellers really need fewer than the required two cars per two-bedroom unit.

“As a planner and engineer in Union County, I wrestle with this problem every day,” he said.

Spanned by the Raritan Valley rail line and multiple bus routes, Union County is ideal for the “transit village” concept that calls for higher density and fewer cars near mass transportation, he said. New concepts put the need for parking spaces well below the 1.67 per unit Maxim proposes, he said, coming closer to one or less per unit.

Vinegra also used projected digital images he took Wednesday to show there is also some on-street parking near the site.

He said in meetings with state “Smart Growth” advocates and rail and transportation officials, he learned that light rail cars may be coming to the Raritan Valley line with more frequent stops. Transit village supporters want to see ridership increase and all towns along the rail line are being studied for “smart growth” possibilities.

The concept was featured in Plainfield at Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’ 100-day report. Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said the city could have four transit village clusters, not only at the existing Netherwood and North Avenue stations, but at two former stations on Grant and Clinton avenues.

Vinegra said he feels the site falls “well within” transit village initiatives.

At the July 26 meeting, the board will hear testimony on other issues. Thirty percent of the proposed units are smaller than the 1,000-square-foot minimum for two bedrooms. The proposal has less back yard and balcony space than required. Its density, at 47 units per acre, far exceeds the 13.3 units per acre in the neighborhood. The residential building would be higher than any others on South Avenue, according to a planning report, and it is not a permitted use in the light industrial zone.

Zoning Board Chairwoman Sally Hughes said the public will also have a chance to speak on the proposal.

Plans are on file in the Planning Division on the second floor of City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave., for any members of the public who wish to review them.

--Bernice Paglia


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