The planner for DMH2, the company seeking to develop 176-200 Bloomfield Avenue, told the Verona Planning Board last night that the company has a way to develop the site without any variances and that the project would be “more intrusive” for the neighborhood.
J. Michael Petry, the planner, showed the board a “concept plan” for a larger three-story building that would have ground-floor retail space, nine apartments and a second floor split between retail and residential uses. Petry said the building’s third-floor windows would be at the same elevation as those on the nearby Westview Road home of Mary Purcell, a retiree who has opposed the development from the start. Petry asserted, before an audience of four dozen people who were often audibly skeptical, that the plan completely conformed to Verona zoning.
The concept plan appears to be an attempt to get the Planning Board to approve the version of the development now before it. Dennis Handel, the principal at DMH2, first sought approval from the Verona Board of Adjustment in June 2012. It rejected a critical variance needed for that plan in March 2013. Handel re-cast the project to eliminate the so-called D variance and took it to the Planning Board in August, which has since been debating how many lesser variances it now needs.
The official application before the Planning Board is for a two-story building that would have only seven apartments. Its location on the site has shifted since August and DMH2 also slightly shrunk the building and switched to four smaller retaining walls from three large ones. The site now slopes steeply to Bloomfield Avenue.
At the February meeting, the Board and Handel’s reps focused on whether DMH2 needed an additional variance for the four retaining walls. Verona’s code permits a maximum of three walls backed by the same soil. Petry has asserted that the plan was not out of compliance because the bottom-most of the four walls would be retaining bedrock, while the upper three walls would hold back soil. At last night’s meeting he testified that test bores done on the property on March 10 showed bedrock at between 2 1/2 and 6 feet below the surface. But the Planning Board voted unanimously on Thursday night that a variance is needed for the fourth wall because the blasting and excavation needed to level the site would effectively mix all the soils. It did not say whether it would approve that variance, or any of the others that had previously been deemed necessary.
Handel has three main options going forward. Option one is to continue with the current application and hope for its approval. Option two is to incorporate elements from the concept plan into the current plan and hope the Board sees it as yet another modification. Option three is to close the current plan and file the concept plan as a new application. If Handel goes for option two and the Board deems it more than a modification, he could be forced into option three. And even if Handel switches willingly to option three, the supposedly conforming plan, he would likely still face challenges from the project’s opponents–or the Planning Board–that it needs variances.
If the Planning Board determines that the concept plan does not in fact need any variances, it becomes what is known as a “by right” application. (Many of the plans to alter Verona’s homes that come before the Board are deemed “by right” applications.) The Board must approve a “by right” plan. It can ask for changes, but the applicant does not have to agree to them.
DMH2 would then have to seek building permits from the Verona Building Department. Those permits could be denied, but only on construction-related issues.
The Planning Board’s next meeting on the DMH2 project is Wednesday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m.