BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
Vinyl siding is a deal breaker on homes in “potential” historic Montclair areas, even if the structures may have no historical value, critics of land-use oversight agencies say.
The owner of an investment property located at 133 Forest St. gained zoning board approval on June 19 to replace an abandoned, dilapidated home built in 1907 with a new two-family. But the board sent the applicant back to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) over its objection to vinyl siding the developer plans to use. The house is one of 71 on the town’s registry of vacant and abandoned properties. It’s also located in a “potential historic district.”
The decision by the board underscores the issue of real estate investors buying abandoned houses only to face pushback from the Historic Preservation Commission. The commission reviewed the application and had over a dozen recommendations.
“This is a potential historic resource, not however designated as historic landmark or in a historic district, so it’s improper for the HPC to have approval authority. It’s not within their jurisdiction. It’s almost like you’re saying the list of 13 HPC recommendations are requirements. I think that is legally incorrect,” said attorney Alan Trembulak, representing 133 Forest St., LLC.
The 4,995 square foot property sits on a .11-acre, 33 foot narrow lot that is characteristic for properties in that area, but doesn’t meet the 60-foot minimum lot requirement. Exceptions were granted for the lot size and cross easements for a shared driveway leading to three parking spaces in the rear.
“It’s an undersized lot with a structure that has been deemed unsafe. My client wants to demo the existing structure and build a new two-family, which will undoubtedly be an improvement over what’s there now,” Trembulak said.
Each of the proposed units in the two-family house would have a first floor living, dining and kitchen area; two bedrooms on the second floor; and a third floor storage space.
HPC representative John Reimnitz said the commission had a hard time with the vinyl siding and other elements of the architectural design such as lack of a roof overhang.
“Overall our suggestion is to simplify things and remove the visual noise. The top heaviness of building is not needed. Bring it down and that would improve the façade,” Reimnitz said.
Zoning board member Jay Church had mixed feelings.
“At first blush I’d be in favor because this could improve the neighborhood, but there’s reluctance of the applicant to adhere to some of the HPC recommendations. The vinyl siding would draw the property back to what it was, but doesn’t improve it,” Church said, adding that he was in favor of granting a variance for the lot size and parking.
Board member Kevin Allen said he holds the HPC in high regard and that the building should look historic.
Board member Thomas Reynolds said, “I wish we could find more impervious overage to break up the walkway. I have mixed feelings about increase to the first floor size.”
The application would improve the property and make it more attractive than what’s currently there. A shared driveway is a logical solution [for parking], added Zoning Board Chair William Harrison.
“You should have the application return to the HPC which understands and can better address some issues instead of us trying to redesign a building on the fly,” Harrison said.
Variances were granted for side yard setback and the shared driveway for parking. Housing elements to show a clean separation of the two units not just a uniform wall along the side was needed, Harrison said.
“Forest Street has older housing stock and vinyl siding would stick out very much. Ultimately, it’s our decision, but to the extent you’re dissatisfied, you can always come back here. This area needs a lot of TLC to be a healthy and vibrant neighborhood. You need to go back to the HPC with revised plans. If there’s no agreement, you can come back here,” Harrison said.
Architect Serdar Kayman said that using other materials instead of vinyl siding would create a budgetary issue for his client. He also noted that the existing structure on site is structurally deficient and uninhabitable.