A rendering of what the developer has i mind for two new homes on Nishuane Road. COURTESY PLANNING DEPARTMENT

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

A proposal to subdivide a lot into three in order to build two new homes on Nishuane Road has neighbors questioning not only tree loss and lot density, but also potential environmental issues on the property, which neighbors a former Superfund site.

Montclair real estate attorney Melanie Factor of Platinum Interiors LLC presented her plans to subdivide a lot at 96 High St. into three properties to the planning board on Aug. 12. Factor, who said she has renovated 10 to 12 properties in Montclair, bought the 0.72-acre lot with the current home in January for $621,000. The nine-bedroom, 4,752 square foot home, built in 1922, is currently undergoing a $300,000 renovation to transform it into a five-bedroom.

A map in a July 1990 document titled “Superfund Record of Decision” shows only one contiguous property from Nishuane to High Street, located about 10 properties away from the contaminated test sites in the Nishuane, Franklin, Virginia area.

The lot runs from High Street to Nishuane Avenue, and is 101 feet wide, with a depth of 309 feet on one side and 333 feet on the other. It is in a single-family residential zone and is the only contiguous lot in the area.

If the subdivision is granted, the lot with the current home would be 100-feet wide, with a depth of 178 feet. The two new lots will be smaller, 52-by-134 and 50-by-146 feet.

Variances for minimum lot width and depth are required for the two new lots on Nishuane Road, as the required lot size is 60-by-156.27 feet. A variance would also be required for the High Street lot as a depth of 199 feet is required. Front-yard depth allowance of 25 feet, and side yards of six and 10 feet would be met.

The majority of the lots on Nishuane Road near the subject property meet the minimum lot width requirement of 60 feet. Nine neighboring lots conform to the 60-foot lot width requirement, while five are 50-feet wide or less.

While the High Street lot will reflect the typical lot size there, Factor’s attorney Alan Trembulak described the Nishuane portion of the property as “unusually large” for that block. He said the size of the lots created by the subdivision would be consistent with neighboring properties along Nishuane Avenue. 

“My initial intention was to build one home, but it doesn’t fit with the neighborhood,” Factor said. She also thought two modest homes of approximately 2,100 square feet would add to a much-sought-after housing stock in Montclair. Renderings supplied to the board show a two-story, four-bedroom home, 30-by-45 feet in size with an attached garage in the front. The homes would be priced in the low-$600,000 range, she estimates.

Board member Stephen Rooney said at 30 feet, the homes were “pretty narrow,” and suggested that a side-by-side duplex might be more aesthetically pleasing as well as add a few more feet.

A Nishuane Avenue neighbor, who estimated the property held up to 40 mature trees, questioned how they could possibly be saved with the construction of two homes.

Factor said her intention was to save most of the trees. She said the buildings’ footprints fell behind most of the trees, but that some would have to come down due to driveways.

Plans for the garage size of 17.5 feet were met with concerns by township planner Janice Talley, who said that zoning required a two-car garage. Two cars could not be accommodated at that width, she said. 

Although not required, board members concurred that a site plan showing elevations, footprints and trees would be helpful. 

But environmental concerns were also raised by resident Keith Obadike, who reminded the board and the owner that the area underwent radon remediation as a Superfund site from the 1980s through the mid 1990s. 

The area was originally monitored by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to radium waste from a former radium processing plant. A total of 100 acres — including 239 properties in Montclair, West Orange and Glen Ridge — were found to be contaminated with radon, according to a 1995 document titled “EPA Superfund at Work.” 

Although a pilot program to test remediation by soil excavation had positive results, getting rid the soil proved problematic. After an agreement with the state of Nevada to take the soil fell through, trailers of the soil remained in Montclair backyards for years until the Kearny landfill agreed to take it. The EPA set up offices in Carey’s Woods, located in nearby Nishuane Park, until the remediation was completed sometime in the mid 1990s. 

Factor said she was aware of the radon problem and had tested the High Street house, but had not tested the soil on Nishuane. 

The NJDEP highly recommends that real estate agents suggest soil and air samples be taken prior to any property sales. 

“We are not sure if this property was close to where the cleanup occurred,” said resident William Scott. “But since they are thinking about construction, I would think they would want to do radon testing, especially if they are to construct basements.” 

Although Factor said she would look into the location of her property compared to the Superfund site, a map in a July 1990 document titled “Superfund Record of Decision” shows only one contiguous property from Nishuane to High Street, located about 10 properties away from the contaminated test sites in the Nishuane, Franklin, Virginia area.

“Some houses were torn down, soil, sidewalks, and streets were removed. It was long term,” said planning board chairman John Wynn. “I think all properties affected would have fallen under the remediation plan.”

The applicant decided to postpone the hearing to come up with more detailed plans. It will be heard on Oct. 7.