Revised Townhouse Plan Intrigues Zoning Board
ZBA rejected controversial development application last summer but agreed to reconsider changes to the plan.
Reconsideration of a revised plan for a proposed townhouse development began before the Parsippany-Troy Hills Zoning Board of Adjustment during its Wednesday night meeting at Town Hall.
More than three years ago, the plan known as 700 Mountain Way was initially proposed as a senior affordable housing community, boasting 38 units. The idea attracted the ire of residents in the area including residents of Mountain Way, South Powder Mill Road and Rocky Heights. Eventually, the age requirement was dropped and the number of townhome units cut to 22, but that wasn't enough to convince the Zoning Board, which rejected the plan in summer 2012.
Testimony began Wednesday with attorney Robert Garofalo's presentation of witness John McDonough, a licensed professional planner.
McDonough, who was a key witness in the previous application, said he would limit his testimony to new information regarding the proposal's changes.
"Materially it's the same from a use standpoint," he said. "The only change is in terms of intensity of use. In the final hearing [prior to the rejection], there was talk of a number of members being on the fence. It came across to the applicant that the use per se was not at issue, but the intensity of use. It was thought that by cutting the number of units, the plan would [benefit from] the diminishment of buildings on the property."
The old plan, he said, featured six buildings, and now has only three.
McDonough said the changes would significantly decrease the disturbance of woodland in the area.
"We've increased the woodland over 500 feet," the planner testified. "Taking what was previously a freeform design, it's now a very geometric plan with three buildings focused in on each other, a very efficient form of design."
According to McDonough, what was a 50 percent disturbance has been reduced to about 40 percent. He described two parallel buildings with six units each and one perpendicular to Mountain Way with eight units.
"Importantly, from a zoning standpoint, we've taken what was previously nonconforming. We've now eliminated all of the variances for steep slopes. The only variance that remains is a use variance to allow multi-family and two dwelling units per acre," he said, noting that the Glenmont Commons multi-family development has six units per acre.
The planner added that buffer around the development will be generous, at least 100 feet at its smallest and increasing toward the south. He said there would be two lines of woodland buffer and added mature evergreens to maximize distance between nearby single-family homes and the townhouses.
"From a physical planning standpoint, this is right on par with what can be realized in a single-family development, and without substantial development," McDonough said."It fulfills a need in the community for multi-family housing, the strongest performing housing type in Parsippany. The demand is there."
He argued that the township has an undersupply of townhouses, which make up 6 percent of housing stock while the percentage is 16.2 in surrounding communities.
"This is a more compact, adaptive type of land use," McDonough said. "There is
less land disturbance, less tree removal, and it's closer to conformance with the zone plan. This provides the board with a basis to work its way to approval."
Board Chair Robert Iracane noted that half-acre lots are common in Parsippany.
"So we're not much worse off by granting 20 houses, two per acre, than if it's a half acre zone," he said.
"I think this is better because of efficient land use," the planner said, noting the lack of a need for steep slope variances and the increased buffer.
"How do we get this under two units per acre?," asked board member Steve Dickens, who suggested cutting the number of units from 20 to 18 because of his concerns about density. "It might be a little more palatable."
Member Loretta Gragnani said she agreed with Dickens.
"You've done a fine job reducing it, but if you could bring it down a little more...," she said.
Opponents to the plan, including the grassroots organization Preserve Mountain Way, were on hand for the meeting. PMW, headed by resident Rick Jilleba, brought along its own representation: Morristown attorney Louis Rago.
Rago asked McDonough whether he feels the current zone for the area is still appropriate.
The planner said yes, but maintained that the 700 Mountain Way project is good for the property on which it would sit.
"This is a very unique property compared to others in the zone, larger size, greater accessibility," said McDonough.
"Wouldn't the approval of this application make other lots in the Rural Residential zone more susceptible to similar projects, making the zoning meaningless?" Rago asked.
"I don't agree with that," said McDonough. "This is a boutique project isolated by virtue of the woodland and evergreens. I don't see this eroding the neighborhood, I see it building it up."
"Could this be be built elsewhere in Parsippany? Are there other townhouse zones where this could go?"
McDonough said he hadn't studied that.
The opponents' lawyer asked whether McDonough had studied the township master plan. He indicated yes, but noted that the plan is a decade old and being reexamined now. He said circumstances have changed."
"We could have confirmation of the RR zone," Rago noted.
Resident Diane Harsanyi asked whether Mountain Way would be widened to allow garbage trucks and traffic to get through.
McDonough said the project complies with established ordinances and that widening the road is not part of the plan.
Opposing residents say a smaller number of townhomes doesn't matter to them.
Jilleba told Patch that cutting the number to 20 does not change his group's view of the Mosberg project.
"Our opposition is not unit number-based," he said, "so whether the plan calls for 22 units or 20 units or 18 units, the application is neither needed nor an appropriate use of the land for multi-unit dwellings."
The crux of the anti-proposal group is its assertion that the Mountain Way area was zoned for single family, large-lot homes, not for multi-family residences, a view they believe is supported by the township's master plan.
The matter will continue Feb. 6.
Wednesday's meeting began with swearings-in of the board members, who were all reappointed to serve for 2013.