Wednesday, November 05, 2008

South Avenue Proposal Denied

The Board of Adjustment tonight (Nov. 5, 2008) denied variances needed for a proposal to build a four-story, 33-unit apartment building on South Avenue near Terrill Road.

The applicant, Plainfield South Avenue LLC, needed variances for height, density, the size of the structure on the site and lack of a commercial use, attorney Glenn Kienz of the law firm Weiner, Lesniak told the board.

The structure was proposed for a site south of the small park on South Avenue and would have abutted four single-family homes on East Seventh Street.

Expert witness Joseph Gurkovich, a professional planner, said the 100- by 300-foot parcel was within a half-mile of the Netherwood train station and one-sixth of a mile from the Fanwood station, thus fitting the concept of greater density in transit-oriented development.

But Board of Adjustment attorney Richard Olive noted that while the concept has been discussed for a couple of years or more in Plainfield, officials have not agreed on whether TOD guidelines apply to a quarter-mile or half-mile from transit hubs.

Gurkovich and Kienz rejected board members’ views that the building could have some commercial uses, saying it was out of the way behind the park, among other reasons. The anticipated renters, young people and empty-nesters at a rate of $1,500 for a two-bedroom unit, would not sustain suggested enterprises such as a concierge service, they said. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt also downplayed the factor of commercial use, saying the site was “off the beaten track” and that putting in a commercial use would make the application worse.

The proposed density of 49.1 units per acre was nearly double the permitted density of 25 units per acre. In public comment, city resident Jim Spear, who said he was representing a local neighborhood association, brought up the issue of another nearby application for massive development on the north side of South Avenue between the former G.O. Kellers site and McDonalds. Spear said the Planning Board had decided that the south side should be restricted to three stories.

Nierstedt said the Planning Board’s recommendation had been sent to the City Council, where twice it was placed on hold. Olive cautioned the board to be very careful, because no decision had been reached by the two bodies, “so you would be rezoning by variance.”

Nierstedt (Correction: Spear) said the council and others have asked for a university study of what constitutes “smart growth” for urban centers, but when former Councilwoman and present Board of Adjustment member Elizabeth Urquhart asked for a hold on the matter until a study could be made, Olive reminded the board that it must vote “yes” or “no” on the application.

Frank Pascale, owner of the nearby Café Vivace, spoke in favor of the application, saying he knew of commercial space in the district that had been unoccupied for 10 years, so the best use for the property was residential. Pascale mentioned several other commercial vacancies.

But Spear said Pascale was the owner of the property in question.

Plaintalker previously reported on the South Avenue issues. Click here to see the posts. To see a blog post on the Omnipointe proposal for the north side of South Avenue, click here.

--Bernice Paglia


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