The Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment had a tough agenda for its July 18 meeting, with three consequential applications to consider – the second phase of Steven Plofker’s application of a new commercial building on the southeastern corner of Grove and Walnut Streets straddling different zones; an enclosed swimming pool to be appended to a house on Afterglow Way; and a new addition to an Upper Mountain Avenue house that drew residents in the vicinity of that property to the meeting. But the poolhouse application was cut short due to the board’s desire for more information, and the applicant for the Upper Mountain Avenue project didn’t even arrive for his hearing. This enabled the board to hear, comment on, and complete the Plofker application.
Plofker’s application for his retail/office building project featured detailed testimony by architect Paul Sionas, who showed once again, for the benefit of the board (except Chair William Harrison, who recused himself), his industrial-style design. The two-story building would feature retail space on the first floor and office space on the second, each floor with 8,550 square feet, and a 50-space parking lot including eight spaces in front of the building along Grove Street that would be shielded from view by a wall. Also, there would be a pedestrian plaza along the southeast corner of the two streets, with room for café-style seating along Walnut Street in anticipation of possible restaurant tenants. There were no fewer than eight variances requested, all but one of the C variances:
- A variance for a building height of 28 feet where the permitted maximum height is 24 feet, the only D-6 variance requested;
- A variance for a setback of 19.28 feet from Grove Street and 7.41 feet from Walnut Street, where a front-yard setback of 20 feet on both ends is required;
- A variance allowing impervious coverage of 91.8%, where the permitted maximum is 80%;
- A variance allowing a four-foot side yard setback where a setback of six feet is required;
- A variance to allow parking between the building and the front property line for the eight spaces along Grove Street;
- A variance allowing a retaining wall and a fence on top of that along the eastern property line, the combined height to be eight feet when a seven-foot maximum height is permitted;
- A variance for the height of a wall along the southern property line, where a maximum of 4.5 feet is permitted, and;
- A variance for not including a loading zone.
Despite Sionas’ extensive testimony, the board still had questions and concerns. Board members had issues with the light poles proposed in the design, and Plofker and Sionas agreed to embed lights in the wall along Grove Street instead. Board member Angela Harris suggested that the lights go off in the overnight hours, something Plofker was amenable to. But he objected to Vice Chair Joseph Fleischer’s request that the building be moved forward and the eight parking spaces facing Grove Street eliminated. Plofker said it was important to keep the appearance of parking in view of motorists along Grove Street, otherwise they would be discouraged from entering the parking lot because they’d be unable to see any parking. Once motorists entered from Grove Street, he reasoned, they could see more spaces in back. He did agree to create a loading zone by delineating the footprint of five head-in spaces along the building’s southern perimeter as a parallel-parking for delivery trucks for use between 7 A.M. and 9 A.M.
Traffic expert Cory Chase testified next, and he was brief and to the point. He said the 24-foot width of the roadway between the lot’s head-in parking spaces would be sufficient for two-way traffic. He added that motorists could enter the parking lot by turning left from a southbound direction along Grove Street (another entrance is to be on the eastern end of the lot from Walnut Street) without blocking southbound through traffic because there would be enough room for it to circumvent vehicles waiting to make left turns. Board member Kevin Allen disagreed, calling for a triangular median at the Grove Street ingress/egress point so only right turns would be possible in and out of the lot.
Plofker and attorney Alan Trembulak agreed to Allen’s suggestion, with a triangular median that can be circumvented by large emergency vehicles (fire engines and the like) making left turns, but not passenger cars. Along with conditions including lights embedded in the wall and a two-hour loading zone, the board unanimously approved the application, bringing for Plofker a conclusion to a long-protracted application.
The poolhouse for 35 Afterglow Way originally presented before the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) in advance of the Zoning Board’s review had been given a blessing by HPC commissioners, but both Zoning Board Chair Harrison and Vice Chair Fleischer found the details wanting. Architect Edmundo Lopez, in the presence of homeowner Zachary Zeltzer, explained the difficult topography of the house’s backyard, showing photos of the two terraces in the near end of the backyard and how the poolhouse would occupy the upper terrace behind the retaining wall separating the side and back yards from the house’s higher-grade front yard. The problem was not the steep grade of the property that places the first floor of the house at a higher level than the basement, which is at ground level in the back yard, but the fact that the proposed poolhouse would increase the width of the house to 78% of the width of the lot, for which Zeltzer is seeking a variance. The maximum allowed is 65% of the width of the lot.
Lopez used an animated slide presentation to emphasize the impotence of the topographical challenges, but Vice Chair Fleischer, noting there had been no topographical survey, said no elevations had been provided for the poolhouse relative to the elevations of the house – “no numbers, no facts.” He said that such information was necessary to look for alternatives to placing the poolhouse to and joining it with the house’s southern end. At one point he suggested joining the poolhouse to the garage at the houses’ northern end, where the grade in back is not as steep, but Lopez said that would lead to a much less attractive design. Without the topographical survey, however, Chair Harrison said it was hard to justify a variance when a survey would allow the board to see how the poolhouse would relate to the garage. Lopez agreed to provide such information, and the application was carried over to the board’s August 15 meeting.
Meanwhile, when the applicant for the Upper Mountain Avenue project failed to show up, the board dismissed it without prejudice, allowing the applicant to re-file before the end of the year to get a second chance at a hearing without paying an additional application fee. A pending application for a shed on Montclair Avenue was approved, with the shed moved four feet away from the property line instead of three feet to allow room for a volleyball court but still keep it from being too close to the adjacent property. A variance was granted to circumvent the six-foot side property line minimum.