Representatives of Elegant Properties LLC appeared before the Hazlet Planning Board Thursday to seek approval for their controversial proposal to transform a 4.5-acre undeveloped plot of land at 780 Poole Avenue into a townhouse development with 48 stacked multi-family homes in four tall buildings.
As the applicant's architect described the project called "Madison Park" and explained the need for various design and bulk variances from the township, planning board members studied documents, asked questions, and raised concerns about the aesthetics of the unusually high-density housing, as well as the property's drainage, parking, fire safety, and height of buildings, in order to better understand the project up for their vote.
In the end, a potential decision to approve it may actually have no consequence. Litigation related to a builder's remedy lawsuit that led to a zoning ordinance permitting nine affordable housing units in the 48-unit complex is currently being challenged in court. Despite that, the Board was obliged to continue with the hearing -- minus Scott Aagre and Michael Sachs, who recused themselves from the discussion, because as members of the Township Committee they are in suit against the applicant.
In testimony, project architect Roger Charles Winkle said that the four 3-story buildings would be built on fill, raising the height by approximately five feet. (The project engineer has not yet testified why that is necessary.) The buildings would face each other -- not Poole Avenue -- on a central street tentatively named "Emily Street." The ground floor stone finish garages are topped with two upper stories designed in traditional townhouse-style with vinyl siding --except that none of the units would have front doors.
Homeowner access would be through an occupant's garage, or via a narrow pathway between the buildings leading to four separate doors. People living in end units would have to use the sides of the buildings to access their entrance doors.
"I am concerned with the aesthetics," said Planning Board member Frank Vignola.
Planning Board Chairman Mike Glackin agreed. "Every other house on Poole Avenue faces the road. Here you are seeing their side doors, the only way in for three elevations," he said.
The architect said he could add a roof overhang and a little porch to make it look more like a front entrance.
There are one, two and three-bedroom units in the buildings ranging in size from 778 square feet for the one-bedroom, 1,492 square feet for the 2-bedrooms, to 1,597 square feet for the three-bedrooms. The top floor of each would be the sleeping areas. The number of units in each of the four buildings ranges from 8 to 15.
Nine COAH units are spread throughout the complex, the rest would be sold at market price and all would likely be part of a condominium association, which was not discussed in any detail. Two of the 48 units -- both one-bedroom COAH units -- would not have their own garages. A small parking lot near Poole Avenue would accomodate them.
Parking is not permitted on the street because the width of the street is too narrow for fire trucks. Homeowners would need to utilize their one-car garages and driveways.
The Hazlet Bureau of Fire Prevention denied approval of the Madison Park plans in April, citing various concerns. This was news to the lawyer representing Elegant Properties at the October 4 meeting. Raymond Tully said he had not been notified of that report and the applicant would attempt to address the bureau's concerns.
The architect said that fire-suppression sprinklers would be installed, HVAC would be located in the attic, and the units would likely be powered by electric, not gas.
Planning Board Member Jeffrey Tyler asked Elegant Properties representatives to return with more specific information about how the proposal would look in the context of the neighborhood on Poole Avenue. The applicant is seeking design waivers for roof pitch, because if it complied with the 35-foot ordinance requirement for height, Elegant Properties would also need a height variance.
"I'm concerned about how massive and high these things are going to be, especially if you are putting them on top of five feet of fill," he said. He asked for differentials to give an idea of scale.
A proposal to reduce the pitch of the roof to make it flatter, and to keep under the height requirement "was not ideal," said Tyler. "I got a big problem with that."
Eight Hazlet neighbors attended the meeting. Steven Sanfilippo, who lives in a house with a basement to the left of the project at 784 Poole Avenue, spoke on the behalf of most of them and asked questions about stormwater runoff and the lined retention basin with fountain that would sit between his home and the project.
Testimony on the Madison Park project will continue on November 1 at 7:30 p.m., and will include time for public comments.