age in place
The owner of the property at 448 Washington Ave. wants to sell half the property to a developer who plans to build a a single-family home.
COURTESY PLANNING BOARD

By Jaimie Julia Winters
winters@montclairlocal.news

A proposal to subdivide a single-family lot on Washington Avenue, in order to build a second home on the property, is back at the planning board seeking approval.

Property owner Sam Debnam, 96, wants to sell half of his 150-by-100-foot lot to developer Mitchell MacGregor, who plans to build a single-family house on the site. Debnam contends a reverse mortgage on his home has run out and the only way to keep up with the taxes and stay in his home is to sell off part of his property.

Debnam’s house would be retained and upgraded.

The original application, which called for the lots to be split 45 feet and 55 feet, was denied by the planning board in February after months of testimony and circulation of a petition by Debnam’s son asking the board to grant its approval. The Feb. 26 petition was denied on a 4-4 vote, with Keith Brodock, Stephen Rooney, Timothy Barr and John Wynn voting in favor and Anthony Ianuale, Carmel Loughman, Daniel Gilmer and Carole Willis voting no. Craig Brandon, Martin Schwartz and Robin Schlager were not in attendance. Due to the tie vote, the application was denied.

New application

The planning board was expected to hear the new application on July 9. But the applicants were told mid-meeting their application would not be heard due to lengthy testimony on an 11-apartment development on Park Street.

The new application calls for the fronts of both lots to be 50 feet in width and a new garage to be built behind the older home with the new home retaining the original garage. A sun room would be removed from the existing home and therefore eliminate the need for a side-yard and building width variance. The houses would share the existing driveway.

age in place
The lots would have 50-foot frontages. Code calls for 60-foot frontages in the area.
COURTESY PLANNING BOARD

60-foot vs. 50-foot frontage

Current land-use regulations call for 60-foot frontages in the area. Arguments made earlier in the year, reflected the town planner’s recommendations that area lot-size requirements be reduced to 50-foot frontages.

The planning board voted no to the lot-size change after the hearing and denial of the Washington Street application.

“The town planner did not review the potential for over-development-related effects here for the board to consider just how many new double lots might suddenly be created, or how many additional multi-family builds could result from her proposed new zoning modifications. Instead, it was presented to us as just logical, common sense adjustments to try and average out each area’s zoning for ease of enforcement,” Planning Board Member Martin Schwartz said about the proposed policy change.

Once the planner saw that members had difficulty with potential development ramifications, Planner Janice Talley advised the board she would remove those zoning lot size changes from modified recommendations, said Schwartz.

In Talley’s presentation to council on June 12 on zoning and land use regulation changes, lot size requirements for new one and two-family construction was at least 60 feet in width with a total lot size of at least 6,000 square feet.

“The effects of reducing front yard width and side yard zoning set-backs for many properties throughout the township does appear to have potential to create additional sub-divisions, more old-house knock-downs and more single-family development. And this could be seen in contradiction to some provisions of the master plan like maintaining more open space, preserving neighborhood character, or impacting quality of life and related environmental goals,” Schwartz said.

Keeping up with the neighborhood

According to a tax map in the planner’s report of the application, only three of the nine properties on the block from Orange Road to Willowdale Avenue meet the 60-foot lot-width requirement.

Further recommendations, if the planning board approves the subdivision, include a larger side-yard setback be maintained on the east side of proposed lot to minimize the impact to light, air and open space to the house on the adjoining lot, preservation of the existing trees on the property and replacement of any removed due to construction and replacement of all sidewalks, driveway apron and new landscaping.