12-Unit Apartment Complex Approved By Zoning Board

TOWNHOUSE APARTMENTS – An artist’s rendering of the 12-unit apartment complex approved May 18 by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

A Newark-based developer walked in to the May 18 Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting with an application for a 12-unit for-purchase townhouse development and left with an approval for a 12-unit apartment complex.

And the changeover occurred in a matter of minutes.

The developer, Blackstone 360, targeted the five-building development – called Villas at Norma Park – at Norma Avenue and Franklin Boulevard.

The two-story units are one- and two-bedrooms, with one- and two-car garages and basements. The original plan included full bathrooms in the basements, but Board members concerned that the basements could be converted into living spaces insisted that Blackstone change the plan to half-baths.

The units have terraces and balconies, and are arranged around a cul-de-sac.

This was the developer’s second appearance before the Board. The first, in April, ended prematurely when it was discovered that the person sent to testify for the absent architect was not licensed and could provide only limited testimony.

Among the variances the project needed was a D1, or use variance, because the property lies in the Office/Professional zone, in which residential development is not allowed.

There were also several bulk variances needed, which caused some Board members to wonder aloud if Blackstone was trying to jam too much on the roughly 1.7-acre lot.

“It seems that this is kinda stuffed,” Board member Robert Shepherd said. “There’s a lot of units here, there’s not enough green space.”

The application was moving along when Shepherd questioned the viability of the Homeowners’ Association which would be needed for the project.

Shepherd said the development in which he lives, and which has an HOA board, is comprised of 500 units.

Even though a number of units are rented to people who have no interest in serving on the board, “there were enough people there to be able to continue to do business as an association, but the problem is we’re not talking about a situation where you have that many families to choose from. Here we have 12,” Shepherd said.

Noting that one of the requirements of approving a D1 variance is that the development will promote the intent of the area’s general zoning ordinance, Shepherd said, “It seems to me if I’m approving a D1 variance, and the question is, is this going to promote general zoning, the fact is the vehicle you’ve chosen to promote this is not going to do this, in my opinion.”

“I think making this a condominium association is going to lead to this project being a disaster, because there’s not going to be enough people to handle the operation of the board, and as a result the project’s going to be nothing but a heartache for everybody in town,” he said. “If this was a rental situation, I would feel OK with this project. But the fact that you’re proposing this as a condominium association, in my mind, means it doesn’t meet the requirements of the D1 variance.”

Peter Lanfrit, the applicant’s attorney, then asked for a 5-minute recess while he spoke with his client.

When the hearing resumed, Lanfrit told the Board that his client had no problem with converting the project to a rental development, with the condition that it reserved the right to return to the Board in the future for permission to revert back to the original purchase model, if necessary.

That quick decision to change course should have come as no surprise. Blackstone 360 is a developer of apartment complexes, having redeveloped four buildings in East Orange into high-rise luxury apartment and mixed-use buildings.

Board member Richard Procanik cast the sole “no” vote on the application.

“I think it’s a bit too dense … I’m just not comfortable voting for it,” he said.

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