Major Construction Approved on Van Riper


Zoning ordinances direct how different properties within a city can be utilized, be it for residential or commercial purposes. These rules place limitations on details like fence height, the heights of buildings, and how much of a property can be covered by impervious material. In Clifton, individuals and companies whose applications require exceptions to these “rules” can come before the Zoning Board of Adjustments (BOA), who hears their cases, and balances the consequences for Clifton’s neighborhoods if an exception (variance) were to be granted.

For example, a variance for a pre-existing carport was denied by the BOA. There were no arguments compelling enough to justify the line of sight hazard it posed onto the corner it resided by.

Chairman Mark Zecchino began the October 18 meeting with the continued hearing of Main Foot and Ankle LLC, an application returning for a third time. Glen Peterson, Foot and Ankle LLC´s representative, went straight into the various changes made to its construction plans from previous BOA feedback and residential concerns. He stated that the building’s second floor, which had been a major point of contention in past hearings of this application, was being removed. He also mentioned changes to the parking lot with an increase of spaces from 30 to 31 to avoid a variance, and its new exit onto Main Avenue to prevent traffic exiting onto the residential street. After seeing no questions, two residents stepped forward to voice their concerns.

They spoke about properties on their one-way street and the problems that, after numerous reports, have not been mended by the City of Clifton. Zecchino acknowledged that the residents were “100% right,” assuring them that their frustration is felt too within the board.

Vice Chairman Gerard Scorziello assured the public that “it's in his (the contractor’s) best interest to advocate for a better environment,” stating that the renovation of the building will be a sure improvement for the neighborhood; Scorziello motioned to approve the application, with Commissioner Scott Sochon seconding it. Conversations concluded with a vote of approval by the board and a statement from Zecchino. He reflected on the process, saying that “the board did the best it could” in guaranteeing the site would be constructed in favor of the residents.

Following this was the hearing of Lourdes Nunez at 528 Piaget Avenue, who wanted to convert her one-family home to a two-family home despite zoning ordinances prohibiting her to do so. Her attorney, Alfred Acquaviva, stated that the application called for a D5 variance. He argued that they weren't trying to “change the use of the home, property, or anything with it; we are seeking the variance with increase intensity.¨ Drew Rominic’s architectural testimony supported this, explaining that the second floor’s pre-existing separate entryway, functional kitchen, and functional bathroom would require zero modifications to be utilized as a second living space.

Attempting to segue into his next testimony, Zecchino stated firmly that two family homes were “not permitted [in that zone], period,” to a rebuttal from the attorney. Commissioner George Foukus asked how long the applicant had been living in her home, to a reply of two years. This sparked questions of the illicit origins of the vacant apartment.

A testimony from the realtor who sold Nunez the property answered these questions; he suggested that a change in the area's zoning laws since the renovations of previous owners could be the reason for the home’s illegal characteristics. When arguing in favor of the applicant's wishes, his argument pivoted on an economic one, citing that the potential second family living space could increase the property values in the area and provide Nunez some much needed income.

Scorziello closed this conversation, commending the realtor for showing such professional courtesy. but stating, “You haven't addressed what we need to hear.” He said that the BOA does not operate on an economic basis, but instead concerns itself with protecting neighborhoods from unnecessary burdens. Ultimately, the application was denied. Gurkov said he did not oppose the application, it was just that, “If we approve this one, we’re gonna have to approve hundreds of thousands after this one, and [we cannot set] a tone like that at this point in the city of Clifton.”

The final application of the evening was BMJR REALTY, LLC of 162 Van Riper Avenue, which proposed a fourteen-unit, two-bedroom apartment building on what is currently a vacant lot. Originally intended to be a twenty-unit building, attorney Dominic Iannarella explained, the application would have required a variance for not providing adequate parking. After becoming aware of the street’s parking situation, the original plan was revised to fourteen units, eliminating the need for a parking variance and eliminating any burdens the original plans would have brought to the streets.

With this wrapped up, the owner, Hugo Rodriguez, was guided by Iannarella through a slew of questions addressing garbage policy, emergency calls and repairs, parking, and more. With no questions from the BOA, the operation’s architect, Tomasz Bona, stepped forward.

The apartment would consist of a footprint of 9,700 square feet with two stories atop a parking level and seven apartments on each floor. Recycling operations, package delivery, and residential entry and departure from the building would all be centered facing Seger Avenue; these orientations towards Seger are intentional, as the Seger side of the building is more industrial when compared to the more residential Van Riper side.

After handing out an exhibit to the board, Planner Michael Pessalano began his testimony. He covered his observations of the surrounding area, stating how he had gone door to door informing the community of the building’s proposed construction. An apartment building did not break zoning ordinances, he said. A major reason in support of the construction, Pessalano mentioned, was that it would change the current Van Riper residential buildings to face another residential building instead of the drab industrial buildings they have to face currently. It would “harmonize the space,” bringing a uniform and kept structure to an ugly, “hodge-podge” lot.

In the attorney’s brief conclusion, he acknowledged the many variances this application called for and stressed that the building would be “self-contained; that we're not burdening the neighborhood, and thereby by we aren't creating [any] detriment.” Zecchino next motioned to approve, commending the operation’s steller judgment in reducing the units and alleviating parking concerns. Molner seconded the motion, followed by the swift granting of the application.

A number of other applications were approved during this meeting, including a proposed deck, additional story constructions and garage modifications, and a new covered rear patio. Two applications were denied because the BOA found no compelling reason to offer a variance, and one was dismissed without prejudice. You can read about all of these in the agenda HERE and watch the recorded meeting HERE. The next Clifton Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting will be on November 1, 2023, at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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