522 Valley Road, Yet to be Decided Upon
The Clifton Zoning Board of Adjustment (BOA) met for their regularly scheduled meeting on March 15, 2023, at 7 pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall. According to the city’s website, the BOA “Exercises the power to review and make decisions on appeals relating to interpretation of the Zoning Ordinances (Per NJSA 40:55D-69).” The BOA, chaired by Mark Zecchino, heard a case that’s been under public watch for a while now.
522 Valley Estates, at 522 Valley Road is an application that the public has been watching with significant opposition. The Clifton Times actually received an email from a neighborhood group specifically requesting that we cover this application. An online petition on Change.org has 755 signatures (as of March 15, 6:59 pm). 522 Valley Estates LLC is requesting to construct a new residential complex consisting of 20 townhouse/multifamily dwelling units within three separate buildings where there is currently one house (this would be demolished). A number of variances are being requested, including the waiving/exception of more stories than permitted (three permitted, four requested), an excess of soil being excavated on the cliff face, the number of trees being replaced would be less than the required amount, and more.
With the engineer testifying first, detailing some aspects of the project, he acknowledged that this project is a major development. The Neglia consultant from the city made it known to the board that this type of development and what it entails is very unique. He called it an “intense proposal.” Chairman Zecchino simply asked if there is an alternative to receiving relief when it comes to the steep slope ordinance, and the engineer answered that there is not. A multi-family development like this requires approved variances from the board, said the engineer.
Board Alternate Alessia Eramo had several questions for the engineer, inquiring especially about how stormwater will be dealt with. The applicant located three main draining patterns: east and west neighbor properties, and Valley Road. To remedy this issue, all of the water will be retained by inlets and bio-retentional basins. The water will eventually slowly be drained onto Valley Road. When questioned by a member of the public, the engineer testified that water basins are built for the size of a 100-year storm event. Another large concern from the public was regarding the retaining walls proposed. The height of this wall would be 39 feet. One specific concern came from a nearby property owner of 23+ years, who said that land and structures have shifted over the years. He asked the engineer how it’ll be ensured that this wall is adequately built and won't crack or be damaged 30 years from now. The response: a structural engineer will properly design the wall, and it’s in the interest of the owner as well to make sure the wall is of good quality. Of course on a property like this, rocks will be an issue. The engineer advised the board that controlled explosions and other techniques will likely be used to deal with the bedrock.
The impact on wildlife was another issue raised by members of the public at this meeting. The engineer testified that to satisfy this issue, the rear of the site is open for animals. This applicant plans on removing 12 minor trees and 87 major trees. The total of trees removed though, including others not classified under these terms, would be about 200. The new imperviable surface being built equates to 90,185 sq ft. Ann Schnakenberg, a member of the Neighbors for Neighbors group (a community group advocating against this construction) questioned the engineer on how often 100-year floods occur. The engineer responded, “Once every one hundred years.” This is not entirely accurate. A federal government agency says, “The 100-year recurrence interval means that a flood of that magnitude has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year. In other words, the chances that a river will flow as high as the 100-year flood stage this year is 1 in 100.” The engineer also was not knowledgeable of whether or not rare species were found on the site, in responding to another of Schnakenberg’s questions. Due to time constraints and this witness’ testimony lasting two and a half hours, the applicant's team was unable to present all of their witnesses and will need to come back. The applicant indicated that they would not be available in April and they were added to the agenda for the May 3 meeting.
The board then moved on to new hearings. The next application heard was from Briad Development LLC. This property is located at 345 Allwood Road and 826 Route 3, in the Clifton Promenade Shops. The existing Stew Leonard’s will be vacating and the proposal is to install a drive-through. One of the testifying witnesses has been involved in the Promenade shops/restaurants development for over a decade. The applicant believes that having multiple tenants in the space would be beneficial to re-tenanting the space. Installing the drive-through would make this process easier and more appealing to tenants, as well. Potential tenants are not typical fast food but are instead shops like CAVA and Salad Works-more upscale than some other common places. The drive-through window would stack along the building and flow to the Allwood side. Chairman Zecchino made the point that Tommy’s, TGI Fridays, and Stew Leonard’s all function without drive-throughs and asked. why a drive-through is needed now. The applicant would like the Stew Leonard’s building to hold 3-4 tenants, most of whom would be retail. There would likely be one eatery and the ideal tenants would include a Panera bread- a fast, higher-end type of place.
Chairman Zecchino appeared skeptical due to the increased traffic and crowding that could result. Commissioner Sochon said that not knowing who the tenant makes his decision very difficult due to how much traffic it could cause. Commissioner Foukas worried that they could approve this application and then a popular company like Wendy’s could come in and cause enormous amounts of traffic. It seemed that many of the commissioners felt that not knowing the tenant made the decision difficult. Commissioners Molner and Gurkov argued that even if they knew the tenant, once that business leaves, a concerning tenant (due to the traffic it would cause) could come in.
A civil engineer was next to appear on this application. After some questioning on parking spaces, the board requested a traffic study and queue analysis. No parking analysis had been completed but the applicant meets the stated requirements for spaces. Despite other variances requested, all the BOA could approve is the drive-through; the other issues would have to go before the Planning Board. After some discussion, the applicant decided to withdraw the application due to a presumed negative outcome. The board dismissed the application without prejudice.
All resolutions (found in the agenda link below) were adopted.
The Main Foot and Ankle LLC (1610 Main St. & 80 W. 2nd St.) application has been moved to the April 5th meeting.
The agenda for this meeting can be found HERE.
You can watch the meeting HERE.
The next BOA meeting will be on Wednesday, April 5th.