Petition Garners Support For Montclair Resident and World War II Veteran Sam Debnam in Fight Against Planning Board Vote


Residents are supporting World War II veteran and Montclair resident Sam Debnam who was recently denied a variance to sub-divide his property. Debnam’s petition states:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Ten years ago, the Montclair Tax Assessor advised World War II Veteran Sam Debnam that his property 448 Washington Ave 100ft front and 150ft deep qualified within the law for “Minor-Subdivision” making two 50ft lots. While, the board affirmed that the 50-foot subdivision is the appropriate width requirement in the neighborhood, but would still require a variance request. Sam Debnam’s “minor subdivision “application failed to pass with a 4-to-4 vote at the Feb. 26 planning board meeting

We support our friend and neighbor, a lifelong member of Montclair, Sam Debnam, a 96-year-old World War II Veteran who has borne a lifetime of activity making wholesome contributions to Montclair.

As a WWII Veteran, Sam Debnam has sacrificed to make contributions to “Montclair Diversity”, it is unconscionable that a World War II veteran is presently suffering undue hardships, threatened with extinction as the population of African American’s living in Montclair according to the U.S. Census once was stable at around 30% for decades, has now fallen from 32% in 2000 to 27% in 2010 (U.S. Census).

We address this campaign to the Montclair Planning Board. We petition the Montclair Planning Board to compassionately use all the considerations at its disposal to the application represented by Mitchell MacGregor, owner of Mitchell MacGregor Contracting of Montclair, to subdivide the property at 448 Washington Ave., in order to build another home on the lot

The same Montclair Planning Board has approved so many variances for out of town wealthy developers, awarding variance approvals for construction of new streets, tree removals, and adding new housing units. There have been many new housing units approved by the Montclair Planning Board in South End where none of the residents were concerned with density and the impact on neighboring property values, as a result of the new construction.

Hence, while denying a World War II veteran Sam Debnam approval for a variance encompassing “9 feet”, the more egregious insult is this same Montclair Planning Board recently recommended to the Town Council that the lot width in this neighborhood change from 60 feet to 50 feet.

Eight One-Family Structures (44 Pleasant Avenue)
Four Luxury Townhomes (99 Claremont Avenue)
Four Dwelling Units (92 Elm Street)
Four New Single-Family Dwellings (14-16 Madison Avenue)

By signing this petition in support of Sam Debnam, we call on the Montclair Planning Board to accept resubmission of Sam Debnam’s application as represented by Mitchell MacGregor, owner of Mitchell MacGregor Contracting of Montclair, to subdivide the property at 448 Washington Ave., in order to build another home on the lot.


Sam Debnam

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  1. Many of us who grew up in Montclair as second generation African American Montclairites, recall the Debnams as contributing to make the South End neighborhood a safe, happy and insular place… a wonderful place in which to grow up. This was during the time of “White Flight” from the South End. The Debnams hauled loads of us to the Wellmont Theater, White Castle’s, and Edgemont Park to ice skate. They had cook-outs, basketball and football games in their backyards, and even prepared picnics for us to enjoy in Nishuane Park. They did all of this while working for small “mom & pop” businesses where no great pensions were offered them; or they went into business for themselves as caterers, sign painters, seamstresses, and electricians. Those few who were doctors or dentists, or opened a business in real estate, depended upon others like themselves as clients, clients who were also just trying to make it. These same African American families, those who are left, did not exit to Bloomfield, Cedar Grove, Clifton or Verona, places where property taxes were/ are lower. Rather, these families chose to remain in a town that was “comfortable” for African American families, even as property taxes continued to rise. Yard work, snow shoveling, roof fixing, furnace replacing all become hardships as one gets older and can no longer work in order to finance these projects. I say, let the Debnams live out their final years in peace. It’s the least we can do for a couple who gave so much to this community. I, therefore, call on the Montclair Planning Board to accept resubmission of Mr. Debnam’s application to subdivide his property at 448 Washington Avenue in order to build another home on his lot; thus recouping some of the blood, sweat, tears and finances that he and his wife invested. Full disclosure, the Debnams are my aunt and uncle.

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