There were four more hours of testimony last night on the proposal to turn 176 and 200 Bloomfield Avenue into a mixed-use development, and the only thing that is certain is that there are probably another four hours of testimony ahead in December and January.
More than four dozen spectators attended the Board of Adjustment hearing in the Verona Community Center ballroom, many brought out by a flyer and Facebook campaign against the development. The Facebook group now has more than 500 members and had delivered leaflets about the meeting to much of the eastern side of Verona.
Many in the group had assumed that last night would be the final night of testimony on the project, which has been before the board since June. But the lawyers for the development company, DMH2 LLC, seemed unprepared to handle questions raised by two Montclair Avenue residents, Steve Foster and John McEvoy, on trees that would be cut in the so-called buffer zone between the project and that street. The development plan calls for eliminating much of the site’s current slope and some 75 trees, including 12 with trunks measuring at least eight inches in the buffer zone, according to last night’s testimony.
DMH2 had previously indicated that it would be calling an arborist as one of its witnesses. (Applications to the Board of Adjustment follow a legal process that involves the presentation of testimony by witnesses and the questioning of those witnesses by lawyers and members of the public.) But DMH2’s arborist was not present last night. Verona does not have ordinances that regulate either construction on steep slopes or the cutting of trees on private property, so the determination of what legally constitutes a wooded buffer appears to hinge on state statute. DMH2 lawyer Alan Trembulak said that its arborist would testify at the next meeting, which has been scheduled for December 13. John Duisenberre, a lawyer for property owners on Montclair Avenue who oppose the development indicated last night that he will also be calling witnesses, which likely would not be able to happen until a January meeting of the zoning body.
Testimony by J. Michael Petry took up the bulk of the evening. Appearing in support of DMH2, the engineer and planner focused his testimony on the variance that would relieve the developer from having to have an equal distribution of usage at the site. As proposed, the development would be about 70% residential and 30% retail. Petry asserted that the plan is “reflective” of the area’s Extended Town Center zoning, which allows for both commercial and residential use. The DMH2 development would, he said, keep the ground-floor commercial usage facing the commercial corridor, Bloomfield Avenue, and the residential usage, two-bedroom rental apartments on the second and third floors, facing the single-family homes on Montclair Avenue. “If you were to balance the uses with second-floor commercial, it would send commercial traffic to the back of the building,” Petry said.
But Petry’s assertions did not appear to sit well with two members of the Board of Adjustment, Chairman John Denton and Lawrence Lundy. “How is 70% residential better,” Lundy asked. “How is more residential than what is in the ordinance somehow in support of the zoning?”