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Long Night For Bloomfield Lot Hearing

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Verona’s Board of Adjustment met for 3 1/2 hours last night on the proposed commercial and residential development at 176 and 200 Bloomfield Avenue and at least one thing is clear — there will be more meetings on this project.

About 30 residents attended the meeting, most from Westview Road and Montclair Avenue, the residential streets that border the project. Though some of them did get the opportunity to ask questions near the session’s end, many left in frustration because most of the evening was devoted to testimony from the architect and site engineer for DMH2 LLCDMHZ LLC, as developer Dennis Handel’s company is known.

The Board of Adjustment’s role is to hear applications for variances to Verona’s zoning ordinance and DMHZ’s plans to build 7,000 square feet of commercial space topped by 14 two-bedroom apartments required five variances.  One would allow the developer to have so-called personal services businesses (think legal, medical, financial) among the tenants and not just retail. A second variance is needed because the proposed usage is 70% residential and 30% commercial and Verona’s zoning ordinance specifies an even distribution between the principal uses.

Front, back and side elevations of the project.
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DMH2DMHZ also needs variances for making the site’s street front parking lot only 20 feet from Bloomfield Avenue instead of the required 30 and for for street front signage, and the height of the substantial retaining walls that will be needed to carry out the project, which will turn the current steep slope of the property into a more level lot. Verona code now allows walls as high as six feet. But one terraced wall at the west side of the proposed project would be 26 feet at its highest. (The building, shown in brown above, tucks into that wall and DMH2DMHZ said it would be largely invisible from the west.)

Board members had many questions about the permissibility and engineering of the walls. Building inspector Tom Jacobsen said that town engineering consultant Hatch, Mott, MacDonald would be on site during the construction of the walls to assure their appropriateness. Hatch Mott’s fees will be paid from an escrow fund set up by the developer and not the town.

But a question by board member Michael Zichelli showed just how massive an undertaking the Bloomfield Avenue project is likely to be. He asked DMH2DMHZ‘s engineer, Vincent Facchino, how much would have to be excavated from the properties and was told about 30,000 cubic yards, or about 1,700 truckloads. Facchino  said that the excavation could take four to five  months. “We have to do it slowly because of the residents in the area,” he added. Trucks involved in the excavation and construction would be able to enter and exit the property only from Bloomfield Avenue and not Westview, which is a one-way street that borders Everett Field.

The red lines indicate the rough boundaries of the two lots, which are bounded by Bloomfield Avenue and Westview Road.

That seemed only a small comfort to the residents in attendance, several of whom, including Montclair Avenue resident Jon Warner, expressed concern over the blasting that would be needed to pry the rocks loose. DMH2DMHZpromised to bring a blasting consultant to the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, July 12.  The actual blasting work is governed by state regulations and would be supervised by state engineers, not Verona officials.

There did appear to be the prospect of one concession to residents: DMH2DMHZseemed open to considering alternatives to having an entrance and exit to the development from the bottom of Westview Road. But that could hinge on  a review of the plan by the Essex County Planning Board, since Bloomfield Avenue is a county road, and on whether it is possible to move the bus stop now located at the corner of Westview and Bloomfield.

The July 12 meeting will again be held in the ballroom of the Verona Community Center beginning at 8 p.m. The meeting will begin with more testimony from DMH2DMHZ witnesses before being opened to questions and comments from the public.

NOTE: A previous version of this story rendered the name of the developer as DMHZ. It is DMH2.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

7 COMMENTS

  1. Board Member Michael Zichelli knows his stuff and asks good questions.

    While being environmentally unhealthy to the area (of which the board can do nothing), this is also going to cause major traffic problems on Bloomfield Ave.

    And as for the blasting…how loud is it going to be? It’s blasting…it’s going to be extremely loud…this will effect residents not only of Westview and Montclair Ave but also Claremont and Elmwood and the businesses in the area (imagine trying to place an order at Mardi Gras will all of this is going on).

  2. We need something that will bring foot traffic and attention to our part of the Ave. I for one am tired of looking at that ugly wall and littered lot. Verona is a bustling town and I’m sure that this will be an asset to the area.

  3. I am not tired of looking at that gorgeous copper beech. Littered lot? The woods are so deep with foliage that you can’t see into the lot. The litter is along the avenue. If it bothers you, bring a bag when you walk along and pick some up. Or call the town. Perhaps it is a county issue since they maintain Bloomfield Ave. A vacant building is available for rent at that end already. No one has touched it for years. Maybe some “bustling” can happen at that location.

  4. Foot traffic? This is not the answer. Let’s just keep packing as much as we can into small spaces until we completely wreck the town. How many apartment buildings do we need. If I lived on either one of those 2 streets I would put a for sale sign up tomorrow….. there goes thier property value.

  5. When you say “our part of the Avenue” , Bobby exactly what do you mean by “OUR”? Do you live anywhere near this area? What sort of foot traffic do you really believe this sort of building will bring? There will be more TRAFFIC (parking for 63 cars)THAT’S for sure, and perhaps, more salon traffic. How many people do you think will be walking to go get their hair and nails done? I do know this project will bring more danger for the hundreds of kids that run across the packed streets to go to their baseball, softball games, and football practices at Everett Field. I don’t think you understand one thing about this area.

  6. The architect indicated that there will be one big building that can be subdivided into 4 separate units. However, some may remember when Brookdale Plaza was built. There were two tenants – The Brookdale Bakery took up most of the building and then there was a small video store. Well over the years this one big building houses at least 10 individual tenets. This same thing can happen at this location. And then what happens to the parking and the ingress and egress? Even in a side conversation with the architect, he admitted that the building could be subdivided into more than 4 tenants. And who controls this expansion? Blasting is another issue. I am sure that it will be done within the state guidelines, but who polices these guidelines and who is responsible when windows get broken or foundations shift?
    Please think this whole application out in detail and be sure to mark your calendar for July 12th at 8:00PM at the Community Center. Everyone will have an opportunity to make a statement. But please try to remember, when the Board directs the public to ask any question they might have that you keep your comments to just a question. You will have plenty of time to state your case before the Board makes a decision.

  7. I am writing about the proposed retail/residential complex to be constructed at 176 and 200 Bloomfield Ave. After attending the past adjustment board meeting, reviewing the plans and renderings, and listening to the expert testimony of the projects architect and site engineer I was, frankly, horrified. Specifics of requested variances aside, three of the overarching concerns of myself, and those who live in close proximity to this site are as follows:
    • Excavation: The site engineer has estimated approximately 5 months of very extensive excavation work (including boring and blasting through a massive area of solid rock) in an effort to change the elevations of this property. Aside from the obvious noise pollution and detrimental effect on the land and surrounding environment, there are many homes close to and directly adjacent to this site, most of which date from the late 1800’s to mid-1950’s. Given the age and proximity of the homes foundations and utility supply lines, I find it impossible to believe that demolition and land re-grading performed on this scale will have no negative impact. The site engineer for the developer assured the board that this work would be done “very carefully and very slowly” but reiterated that they basically don’t really know what’s there. I, for one, am not reassured by such lip service.
    • Traffic: The plan, as it stands, would provide residential and retail ingress and egress in two locations; Bloomfield Ave and Westview Road. Please bear in mind that Westview is a steep, narrow, winding one-way road that currently contains approximately 13 homes (and many children). Westview Road simply CANNOT handle the volume of mixed residential and commercial traffic this would inevitably create. Additionally, there is a heavily active ball field also directly adjacent to the property. Scores of children play there almost all year round. Introducing this type of traffic at that location is simply a disaster waiting to happen.
    • Retaining walls: The plan as it stands calls for a series of large retaining walls to border the property (necessitated by the scope of the intended excavation) In some areas this wall will be 26 feet high. Despite assurances from the site engineer that the wall will be buffered with trees, a giant concrete wall is still a giant concrete wall. The developer claims to want to create something that fits in to the residential feel of the neighborhood, this clearly does not.
    In short, yes, Bloomfield Ave. is a commercial road, and inevitably will be even further developed, and while I’m certain that this project will eventually be held to all proper zoning requirements there is a point when common sense must come into play. This plan, as it currently stands, aims to develop every potential inch of this property, demonstrating a willful disregard for public safety and total disrespect for township land and local residents. My family recently moved to Verona for the sense of community that it embodies. In the short time that we have been here, Verona has felt like a town that takes great pride in itself. In pursuing this project, I would urge the developer to consider his project’s future neighbors, and I would urge town officials to look beyond the numbers and the minutia of regulations and variances, and indeed, beyond the potential tax revenue. Look at the larger picture and carefully consider the community you live in when assessing this project and making the decisions you will be faced with. Please do the right thing.

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