A Cautionary Tale from the Zoning Board of Adjustment
The Zoning Board of Adjustment met on April 5. Not present were Vice Chairman Gerard Scorziello, Commissioner Zalman Gurkov, and Second Alternate David Braid.
Several applications on the agenda were continued to the meeting on May 3 and included 522 Valley Estates LLC, seeking to build 20 townhouses on the property where a single home currently exists.
John Rader, who seeks to demolish Mooney’s garage and enlarge the Dunkin’ at 817-825 Clifton Avenue to create an additional store and a drive-through vestibule was also continued to May 3.
Right across the street, on the other side of Cloverdale, is 833 Clifton Avenue. The applicant is before the BOA with plans to build a three-story apartment building and requested that his application be carried to May 3. This same applicant has also been before the Planning Board with a proposed automated car wash. Both applications have been continued multiple times.
Main Foot and Ankle also requested a continuance to May 3 and said that their engineers are revising the site plans and the Bank of America requested that their application be carried to April 19.
David Velasco (Mac Arthur Drive) - Velasco wants to convert an existing balcony into an extra room on the second floor of his house. He needs a variance to the yard setback requirement because the enclosure will be nine feet closer to the property line than the required 35’. Comm. Sochan moved to approve the application and it was unanimously approved.
Franklin Pecho (Center Street) - Pecho wants to add a set of stairs in the back of his two-family house to add a manner of egress to the second floor. He needs a variance for yard setbacks as the stairs will land too close to the property lines. There is currently a staircase to the second floor on the inside of the house, accessible via a side door. He is asking for the second set of stairs at his architect’s recommendation, in order to provide a second means of egress in case of fire. After commissioners suggested that it would be helpful to hear from the architect directly, Pecho said that he did not bring him because it would have been too expensive.
An objecting neighbor testified, citing that the stairs would require access to her property and adding that she is concerned about construction debris in her yard. Her house is a mere one foot from the side of the property in question, she said. After showing her photo to the applicant to explain why she is objecting, the applicant said, “That’s not my house.” She received a notice because she lives within 200 feet of the applicant who is requesting the variance and mistakenly thought that the proposal was for the property upstairs from her.
Comm. Foukas said that if the staircase was for emergency use, a fire escape would suffice. Comm. Molner made a motion to approve but there was no second to the motion and it failed. Foukas then motioned to deny, on the grounds that a fire escape would do the job. That motion passed and the application for a variance was denied.
Carlos Lange (Highland Avenue) - Lange did substantial work to build a garage for his two cars during the winter with a storage space above. It matches the exterior of his house, he said and improves the neighborhood. He said that he did not realize that he needed permits to do this. A city inspector was in the neighborhood for someone else’s project and discovered the garage in progress. It was then, when the inspector asked to see the permit, that Lange realized he needed one. Chairman Zecchino did not seem happy with how large the structure is or with how close to the property line (two feet). He suggested that he might look more favorably upon the application without the two “dog houses” and the second floor. Comm. Molner questioned how the applicant, who is a builder, was unaware that he needed at least a permit to build the two-car garage. He motioned to deny and it was unanimously supported. The applicant likely will be required to change his plans and return before the BOA to seek permission to build and then pull the required permits. Once he has the permits, the Building Department could require him to take down walls or dig up the footings so that the framing and footings can be properly inspected.
It is a costly mistake and a good reminder to everyone not to do work without first checking on whether permits are required or not. Clifton’s City Codes have many of these answers or you can visit the Building Department at City Hall with questions.
Karen Espinal (Jeremiah Batista represented the applicant) (Clifton Avenue) - Espinal is requesting a use variance to operate an after-school program in combination with a dance and etiquette school. It’s a mixed-use property on the lower floor and there are only four parking spaces where nine would typically be required (including two for the upstairs tenant). The state approved her for a maximum of 18 children, Espinal said. She testified that parents have plenty of space to pull up to the building for pick up/drop off and don’t need to park. The planned hours of operation are 3-7 pm on weekdays and on Saturdays from 10 am-1 pm and 1:30-4:30.
Comm. Molner asked if the space would ever be used as a party rental room and Espinal said that it would not. The focus of her classes will be on good manners - how to eat, behave, and dress properly. Her school was approved for ages 6-13. Comm. Eramo asked about situations when parents might need to stay. “We have space for parents if they want to stay,” the applicant said. Batista said that his office was across the street and street parking was always used because there is plenty of it around that location (around 2nd street). Employees could park on the street if they need to leave the lot open for parents. Batista wrapped up by affirming that his client is bringing something positive and important to the community. Comm. Sochon moved to approve it, based on it being of benefit to the community. The application was approved by unanimous vote.
The application for 345 Allwood Road (to convert the existing Stew Leonard’s building to a multitenant one with a drive-through) was dismissed without prejudice at the request of the applicant.
You can watch the full meeting, which was just shy of one hour, HERE.