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Planning Board Shoots Down Neighbor-Hated Subdivision Application

Planning board said applicant Robert Jennee did not meet criteria for hardship variance nor that benefits would outweigh detriments.

The planning board cut down to tear down a historic home and replace it with two modern homes on Monday night, a move neighbors see as a victory for not just the 'character' of their neighborhood, but a move that speaks to preserving the overall character of the village.

Planning board members individually said in deliberations that their reasons for voting down the application– knocking down the 1850 home at 975 East Ridgewood Ave and subdividing the single lot with two 3,200 square foot homes as a way to better provide rhythm to the neighborhood, and perhaps a hefty profit for developer Robert Jennee–were not centered on the ancillary testimony of a real estate agent who testified the house was in too poor a condition to sell, nor the objector's appraiser who spoke of the value of the home.

Instead, Chairman David Nicholson said, the key issue was the ordinances and village planning guides (specifically, the 2006 Master Plan revision), along with the proposed variances requested, among them a hardship variance (C-1) to allow for setbacks and other alterations, as well as a separate variance noting the changes proposed would outweigh the detriments imposed (C-2).

Nicholson said when the planning board was drafting sections of the 2006 Master Plan revision, particularly regarding infill subdivisions, "this is the application we had in mind." The application was rejected unanimously.

Nicholson and Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, also a planning board member, said while the proposed corner lot wasn't so much an issue, there were serious problems with the interior lot being too large for the space.

"I disagree with the planners. In this particular case . .. a better path is a single house on a single lot," Nicholson said.

Albert Pucciarelli, the vice chairman, agreed that the variances sought were not met by the application said he wanted Ridgewood to avoid becoming "Levittown."

Jennee's attorney Charles Collins said repeatedly through the process that the 1850 home would not be renovated to its former condition. Instead, he said, it's more likely Jennee will knock down the home and place a house "as big as 5,000 square feet" should the application not be granted.

Kiko Arase April 06, 2011 at 12:53 PM
James - thank you for your excellent coverage of the story. Your reporting was fair and accurate and a pleasure to read. I am pleased that the Planning Board stood up for the Master Plan and the Village Code and denied the application for subdivision. It seemed totally unreasonable.
PLAYAC April 06, 2011 at 04:49 PM
I doubt Mr. Jennee will put a 5,000 sq. ft. house there. He'd have to price it well north of $1 million and given the location that would be a difficult sell.
Lawrence April 06, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Ediam, wouldn't be too sure of that $1 million dollar threshold. The developer just sold a much smaller house (2200 sq ft) on a much smaller lot (8000 sq ft) for $789,000 within 7 days of listing it on the MLS. The smaller house (3,000 sq ft) that he constructed on Spring with no property sold for $900,000. He's had the Van Dien house (3700 sq ft) on the market at $1.3M and since it recently dropped off of the MLS, I'm pretty sure he got his asking price. But you are absolutely correct about the size of the house. There's NO market right now for a 5,000 sq ft house on an average piece of property in Ridgewood. The only 5,000 sq ft house being built right now are in Saddle River or up in the Country Club Heights section (and there hasn't been a new big one in a while). The most desirable, and profitable, market for a new construction, "large" home is around 3,500 - 3,700 sq ft home. Hence the reason the developer wanted to build at 3,200 sq ft. Unless the developer has a specific client who wants a 5,000 sq ft house on that property (and who would be crazy enough to do that), it's not going to happen. It's funny, though, that the developers attorney kept threatening with a 5000 sq ft. when everyone know that's not where the profitable market is. Mr. Jennee is a good businessman. He knows that his maximum profits are in the 3,500 - 3,7000 sq ft range. He should hire a decent architect and build a Victorian that showcases his business.
Grant Symington April 06, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Heard that the PB voted UNANAMOUSLY against the subdivision. They cited Master Plan and Village code as the reasons for denial. Sweet victory for Ridgewood.
James Kleimann April 06, 2011 at 09:06 PM
Yes Grant, it was passed unanimously. The board noted that it felt much of the testimony from both sides was irrelevant and the guiding principles of village law and planning documents were the sticking points. Member Richard Joel also said the hardship variance request was "self creating".
James Kleimann April 06, 2011 at 09:27 PM
By passed I mean the planning board voted unanimously to REJECT the application. Apologies for any confusion that last statement may have caused.
Christine Kenyon April 07, 2011 at 02:58 PM
I agree with Kiko Arase (above) and am please with the Planning Board standing up for the Master Plan and the Village Code and thus denying application for subdivision. Can the Planning Board vote accordingly concerning the Valley Hospital expansion? This article deals with one lot whereas the Hospital concerns a major expansion that will change the face and integrity of Ridgewood village. Calling the hospital project a "renewal" is a euphemism for what they plan to do.

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