Planning Board Sends ‘McMansion’ Developer Back To Drawing Board

Piscataway resident Asha Abraham’s plan for a new 3,500-square-foot home on Wilson Road was rebuffed Oct. 4 by the Planning Board.

The Planing Board on Oct. 4 sent a Piscataway resident back to the drawing board after refusing to act on her application to build a new house on Wilson Road.

To say some board members felt the planned 3,500-square-foot house was a bad fit for the neighborhood would be an understatement.

“This is a freaking McMansion, I have no other word for it,” board chairman Michael Orsini said.

“That’s as inappropriate a design for a house in that neighborhood as I’ve ever seen,” added board member Robert Thomas. “It doesn’t fit anywhere on that street.”

The applicant, Asha Abraham, owns the roughly two-acre property, on which sits an existing house that she is renting out. Abraham said she wanted to subdivide the property and build the house for her parents and her family on the new lot.

Abraham said she thought she would keep the existing house as a rental, but there was the possibility that her sister could move into it with her family.

Abraham said her parents would live on the new home’s first floor, and she and her family would live on its second floor.

The plans also called for another driveway to be built for the new house, and for a re-alignment of the existing driveway.

That caused some consternation among some board members, who were not happy that a stream on the property would have to be further encroached.

There was also the question of how many, and which, trees on the property would be cut down. The application was not clear about that, which further agitated some board members.

The plan would need several variances, including for setbacks because the home would be too close to neighboring property lines.

“Why do you need to have two houses if she’s only going to be living in one?” Orsini asked at one point, adding that he thought Abraham could remodel the existing house for her planned use.

“What I see right now is something that substantially benefits her” and not the community, he said.

“Isn’t your point that by building  new house that you can design it with a bedroom on the first floor?” Township Councilman Ted Chase asked Abraham.

“I live in a house with a bedroom on the first floor, its called an in-law’s suite,” Orsini said. “It’s a normal two-story house. That’s not an exceptional condition to my mind.”

“I’m just saying that’s why she wants to live in the new house instead of the old house,” Chase said.

“The character of the neighborhood is decent-sized houses,” Abraham’s attorney, Peter Lanfrit, told the board. He said his client could knock down the existing house “and build something substantially bigger.”

“If you say no, the possibility could be that you may get a substantially larger house that may not be in character with the neighborhood,” Lanfrit said.

Several neighbors showed up to oppose the application.

Tom Young, whose property abuts Abraham’s, said that average houses on the street are smaller than 3,500 square feet.

“One of the reasons we moved two years ago to Wilson Road is we loved the wetlands behind us, we loved the solitude, the trees and the neighborhood,” Young said. “According to the plans I have, they’re clear-cutting that yard and they’re going to put up four new trees. The rest of the trees they’re putting up are arborvitae.”

“Now they are going to take down trees that are 60 to 70 feet high now, and replace them with deer vegetables,” he said. “I’m going to have a house that’s more than twice the size of my house right up against my front porch, with nothing between us.”

Another neighbor, Gina Ulrich, asked the board who would be on-site to make sure that more trees than allowed are not taken down.

“I don’t believe that you have no intention of selling that house in the future,” she said to Abraham. “I also don’t believe that they don’t have every intention of knocking down all the trees. I don’t believe any of it.”

It was then that Orsini said he had a problem with the size of the planned house.

“You’re showing us a house that is twice the neighboring houses,” he said. “Maybe this would be suitable on Michelangelo (Road) or Masada (Street), but it’s not suitable in this neighborhood. I don’t think its necessary for this sized house, with features like a butler’s pantry to accomplish the goals that Asha had stated.”

Lanfrit said his client would decrease the size of the house to less than 3,000 square feet. He also said that Abraham could create a “flag lot” – not usually a preferential design – and build two new houses.

“She probably could have some substantial houses,” he said.

“That would also assume that we grant some variances,” Orsini said.

Lanfrit said his client understood the neighbor’s concerns about the trees and, if the board has concerns about which trees would remain, “we’ll gladly come back with new plans.”

The chairman had by then heard enough, making his “McMansion” statement.

“We’re not going to do anything tonight,” he said. “Come back with a revised plan. Show me the trees, show me the right-sized house. The board is not going to have enough information to make a decision on this (tonight).”

Referring to the rendering of the house shown to board members, Chase told Lanfrit that he should have “torn that piece of paper up and eaten it instead of submitting it. It’s a McMansion. You’re going to have to come back with a plan that minimizes tree cutting, shows new plantings that will be deer resistant, or fences around them. You’ve got to come back with some positive aspects to this plan.”

“I think my client and I have that message loud and clear,” Lanfrit said.

A Dec. 5 return date was then set.


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