The end may finally be in sight: DMH2 LLC, the developer looking to level the steeply wooded lots at 176 and 200 Bloomfield Avenue for a mixed-used building, presented its final witness to the Verona Planning Board last night. Its opponents also presented their final witness. With that, the case heads to an August meeting that will let both sides sum up their cases, and let residents have a final say as well.
There were no major breakthroughs on either side last night. Vincent Facchino, the developer’s site engineer, gave the Board an explanation of his third revised report of how the site, once developed, would handle precipitation from a rain or snow storm. To build the two-story building and 61-car parking lot that it is proposing, DMH2 will strip the lot of all its trees and remove all of the soil and bedrock.
In his new evaluation, Facchino’s calculations assumed that the lot was almost completely wooded, even though the developer has steadfastly refused to characterize it as such. But when he was pressed by Jessica Pearson–one of the project’s opponents–to explain inconsistencies between the calculations in the three reports, an exasperated Facchino seemed to concede the magnitude of the project. “Ma’am, the entire site is being disturbed,” he said. Jack McEvoy, Pearson’s husband and another key opponent, later tried to use the new view of the site as largely wooded to get the Board to require another variance but was rebuffed.
Verona’s town engineer, Jim Helb, once again presented views that appeared to support the developer. Helb sought to show how the pipes and catch basin’s of the developer’s new stormwater management plan would make it different from the Pilgrim Plaza shopping center, which is also completely covered by buildings and parking lots. Pilgrim Plaza, Helb said, was built in an era when stormwater management systems were not required so it has nothing to prevent the water that falls on the site from running off onto Pompton Avenue.
But Helb then tried to assert that DMH2’s lots, in their natural site, did a poor job of handling stormwater. “There’s not a lot of opportunity for recharge on 176 now because it is part of First Mountain,” Helb said, referring to the ridge that defines Verona’s east side. Recharge happens when rain or snow filters down from a surface into the groundwater below. The root systems of trees and shrubs aid in that filtration process, while buildings and paving impede it. Verona Town Council member Kevin Ryan, who also sits on the Planning Board, asked Helb if there were any problems with runoff on the site as it now exists, and Helb said no.
The final witness for the opponents was Lars Sternas, whose Montclair Avenue house sits just 5 feet from the northern boundary of the DMH2 lots. Sternas said he knew that one of the lots was zoned commercial when he bought his house 13 years ago, and imagined that “sooner or later somebody would do something on it.” But Sternas said he had thought that it would be something like the small Castellano office building just to the east of the DMH2 property, which sits close to Bloomfield Avenue with a limited parking lot to the rear. Sternas emphasized how the trees now on the DMH2 lots block out the traffic on Bloomfield Avenue and wondered what it would be like when the headlights of the cars coming into the large DMH2 lot shine into his house. Helb attempted to diffuse some of Sternas’ concerns about losing utility service during construction by saying that Montclair Avenue’s electricity does not come from the Bloomfield Avenue lines.
DMH2, which is owned by Dennis Handel, has been seeking approval to develop the lots since June 2012. Its initial plan was killed by the Verona Board of Adjustment in March 2013. It submitted a new proposal the Verona Planning Board in August 2013.
The next Planning Board hearing is Thursday, August 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Verona Community Center.