Townhouse Opponents Launch Passionate Argument

ZBA member reminds: 'This builder is not going to go away.'

The effect a new townhouse community could have on the character of the rural residential area encompassing Mountain Way, Rocky Heights and South Powder Mill Road is still being debated at Town Hall. The Parsippany Troy-Hills Zoning Board of Adjustment resumed its long consideration of the proposed 700 Mountain Way townhouse development proposal at its Wednesday night meeting.

In this session, attorney Louis Rago, representing residents' opposition group Preserve Mountain Way, was given the floor to begin his case against a revised version of a previously rejected Edward Mosberg affordable housing townhome application was presented for new testimony last week.

The board carried the case over after hearing from one witness. Testimony will resume March 20.

That one witness, for the opposition, was land use planner David Zimmerman, who testified before the ZBA against the project in late 2011.

The planner offered statistic after statistic to argue that townhouses are a bad fit for a "unique country road in Parsippany featuring large-lot single family dwellings."

Zimmerman put forward a case based on criteria the zoning board must consider when judging an application for variances and zoning changes.

"One of proofs has to deal with in this type of application. You must prove and the board must find that the use promoted the general welfare. You have to ask a question: Is this property particularly suited for the proposed use?"

Zimmerman said that the two lots designated for 700 Mountain Way are surrounded by single-family detached dwellings

"Mountain Way was developed for single family homes," he said.

The second proof is whether there is a purpose of municipal land use promoted in the application, Zimmerman continued.

"My position is that townhouses on this property are inappropriate from a land development perspective," he explained. "It does not promote the general welfare, Glenmont Commons provides plenty of townhouses, there are more than 300 more on Route 10.

"Look at this immediate neighborhood—there are probably more townhouses than single family homes."

Zimmerman contended that the environmental characteristics of the neighborhood are better suited to single family homes. He added that the township's master plan makes that vision clear.

He asserted that the project violates a town ordinance that mandates "adequate open space" in applications. Zimmerman said that according to the law, there is a buffer requirement of 65 feet between a townhouse and a single family home and that 700 Mountain Way's buffer falls short at about 60 feet.

The next proof, he said, is whether the application promotes the "appropriate density."

"You have a significantly higher population density with 20 townhouses than you would with four single family dwellings," he asserted, stating that the approved density for the Rural Residential zone is .5 acres per acre..

"If you were to consider 20 townhouses at a population of 2.5 per townhuse, that would be 50 persons and four homes with four per home, that's 16 people on the property. That's much higher than zoning requires. The density proposed is 2.1 units per acre. The area is zoned for .5 units per acre, a fourfold increase in density."

Zimmerman also argued that the 2004 Parsippany master plan determined that there are enough townhomes in the township.  

There's no purpose promoted, to the contrary these purposes are thwarted by the application.

"Does this advance the public good?" he asked. "This will erode the single family character of an area that's already fragile due to Glenmont Commons."

He also called it "a detriment to the public good."

Attorney Robert Garofalo of Garofalo and O'Neill, representing the developer, noted that master plan is in the process of being rexamined, as must happen every 10 years.

ZBA members took turns asking questions of Zimmerman. In one exchange, Amil Shah addressed the rexamination.

"Does the master plan reflect society today, after the recession?" he asked, recalling planner John McDonough's previous testimony that demand was high for townhomes in Parsippany but supply was low."

Zimmerman countered, saying, "Parsippany has more townhouses than any other community save Denville."

"Are you comparing apples to apples?" asked Board Chair Robert Iracane. "What the applicant is proposing makes sense [for these two lots]. If you look at lots as you go down the block, they get smaller.

"It doesn't make sense in this zone," said Lou Rago. "They don't want or need it, and that's the master plan saying that."

Board member Saurin Pathak seemed to urge compromise as he put a question to the opposition.

"What's a reasonable numberof units?" he asked. 

"This builder is not going to go away."

Par4theCourse February 07, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Waterview opponents should pay close attention to this one. It's unbelievable that even after being presented with hard facts why this should NOT be rezoned, the zoning board seems to have tunnel vision and they've made up their minds already to push this change in zoning through. This even after the fact was made that the application is in complete disregard to the master plan. The zoning board's position is "we'll, the master plan is being re-evaluated anyway". Then why even hold meetings if they are going to blatantly disregard the master plan? Seems they are just rolling over to appease the developer.
William Paavola February 07, 2013 at 04:45 PM
There are too many tightly packed residences in Parsippany already. We should look at the ratio of that type of housing compared to single family accomodations and make adjustments. There are plenty of other areas to build these than where the developer wants to put this mess. How about he builds it near the water tank on the same road.
Robyn M. February 07, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Is this the town you wanted to live in? I've been asking myself that. I wanted to live in a suburb and this is fast becoming a City. It's starting to look more like Edison - high density complexes moving in, as well as more stores along our highways. There is no consideration put into enhancing quality of life for current residents - improving traffic flow, making sidewalks actually walkable, and fixing downtown Lake Hiawatha by creating storefronts that are consistent and attractive. Compare this to even Boonton, which has a real effort underway to transform its downtown and create an appealing downtown area where people can congregate. Instead of trying to become more people and family oriented, we are becoming a gateway city with "easy access to major highways."
Harland February 07, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I wonder why we even have a master plan. It seems like the zoning and planning boards ignore it just as much as the developers do.
Harland February 07, 2013 at 07:45 PM
I love the comment that "this builder is not going to go away". Is that the criteria for approval - ask enough times and we'll eventually give in?
Annie February 07, 2013 at 08:43 PM
I agree with you Robyn. I keep saying "I did not move here +16 years ago for this". I want to live in a suburb, not a city. I don't want convenience to stores or neighbors on top of me, that is what appealed to me about Parsippany in the 90's but the beauty of this town is disappearring more each year. I can see more "for sale" signs going up soon if the town doesn't start listening to the current residents.
Bob Crawford February 07, 2013 at 08:57 PM
When it comes to developing our local economy and protecting our neighborhoods, it is increasingly clear that Parsippany lacks the leadership to move our community forward. The current practice of careening from development project to development project, (Whole Foods, Field of Dreams and Mountain Way) while holding "public" hearings that mystify rather than clarify underscores the continuing failure of Mayor Barberio and his cohorts on the Town Council to do the jobs they were elected to do. These elected officials have no vision, no leadership skills and no clue how to move Parsippany forward. Consequently, Parsippany is stuck and will remain stuck until significant changes are made next November when we will have the opportunity to elect a new Mayor and new Council members. A failure to take full advantage of that opportunity will result in more of the same which, put another way, means lots of nothing. Parsippany can't afford another four years of nothing.
Robyn M. February 08, 2013 at 02:13 AM
Bob - who should we vote for? Is there someone out there, who is interested in preserving or even rolling back some of the industrialization of Parsippany (protecting space as it becomes available; actively working on more community-oriented projects that make this an attractive, desirable, safe space for families)? I would vote for a candidate like that - I know a lot of people who would. I used to live in the Madison area and that is more the type of community I want to live in - cute little downtown, shops, schools that are very well rated, a town with a lot of activities for kids throughout the year, nice sidewalks, etc. There are ZERO activities for young kids in the winter (except the library)We pay nearly $1K/month in taxes and I'm not seeing the ROI.
Robyn M. February 08, 2013 at 02:15 AM
Haha! I thought that was funny, too. I think that's how we got roped into the infomercial thing - must have been one of those persistent telemarketers.
Robyn M. February 08, 2013 at 02:15 AM
Annie - Amen, Sister.
Par4theCourse February 08, 2013 at 02:26 AM
Robyn, I agree with everything you say with the exception of "zero activities for young kids in the winter". Check out the Parsippany PAL, there's a lot of activities there for kids. Other than that, I share your concerns.
Robyn M. February 08, 2013 at 03:19 AM
Thanks Par4theCourse! Yes, PAL seems good. I have an older daughter who could do a few things, but she has some activities. It's my littlest one who is a very smart little 2-year-old who cries because her sister gets to do all of the fun things. I know there used to be a mommy & me class through the town during the winter, but that is not happening anymore.
Bob Crawford February 08, 2013 at 07:26 PM
Robin M It is not yet clear who concerned Parsippany residents should consider voting for next November. Mayor Barberio has clearly demonstrated that he is not up to the job and Mr. Carifi has yet to define or distinguish himself as a member of the Town Council. The good news is there is plenty of time for other candidates to emerge who share your version of the kind of place Parsippany could and should be.At the local level it really doesn't matter if those candidates are Republican, Democrat or Independent. What does matter is that that those candidates have the experience and independence to make decisions that are good for all Parsippany residents regardless of political affiliation.
Nicholas Robert Homyak February 11, 2013 at 03:08 PM
These developers have no respect for the State Master Plan or Smart Development criteria. They have no sense of time and place for the Parsipanny Community or the Planet. Anyone who thinks that Parsipanny needs more congestion or any type of development of this type (any type really) is obviously not community originated and is partial toward private interest; in short should not be on the planning board. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. THIS BUILDER NEEDS TO GO AWAY.


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