What would be better for a neighborhood, attorney Charles Collins asked – two 3,200 square ft. single-family residential homes or one large home that could house twelve people with mental illnesses? How about a 5,000 square foot home with people suffering from head injuries? A daycare facility? A group home for victims of domestic abuse? The developmentally disabled?
That could be , Collins said, if the planning board does not grant the variances his client Robert Jennee is seeking to bulldoze an 1850 home on a corner lot, sub-divide a half-acre lot and place two new 3,200 square ft. homes in its place.
The objector's planner, Michael Kauker, said in the eyes of the ordinance, both are in equal standing; residents responded to what could be construed as threats by welcoming many of the possible uses. Even moreover, one resident–Kathy Benson–said, all homes zoned single-family residential are permitted to have such uses.
The reality is, Collins said, "Nobody likes change. And unfortunately, this lot will change." Collins said there will not be a rehabilitation of the historic home, one that had been in poor condition compared to the rest of the neighborhood. "That's not going to happen . . . with certainty, my client will build a bigger house on this lot."
Collins, in his closing statement, told the planning board to carefully . Among the reasons cited, the setback along Walthery Avenue is the size of three front yards across the street; the home's coverage area is in line with others; and as noted by the applicant's planner David Troast, two homes in the same space would be "more in rhythm" with the neighborhood.
"I ask you to pay very close attention to what's best for the village," Collins said. If you do that, he told the planning board, you will come to the same conclusion he and the applicant has.
However, resident Quincey Pitney, who lives at 929 East Ridgewood Ave, implored the planning board to reject the application on the grounds it would be more in place "in Plano, Texas" than Ridgewood, New Jersey.
"We're talking about changing the character of the neighborhood and Ridgewood. Where does it stop?" she asked. Pitney continued, "This is the integrity of our town...it is not characteristic of the neighborhood to have smaller lots [with bigger homes]."
Pitney said Jennee making smaller lots "for his own selfish reasons" would not be "for the benefit of the community." Pitney also charged that two "McMansions" would bring in two families with at least three kids each, and will further strain the schools and taxpayers.
Various other residents like Lorraine Reynolds and Kim Albano-Carramanna echoed Pitney's comments, telling the planning board that it could not possibly draw the conclusion the village will be better off.
Reynolds pointed out that out of 21 corner lots within a few blocks, only three have a ratio greater than 20 percent lot coverage ratio. All of those homes, Reynolds said, "look squeezed" together. The two proposed homes would have a lot coverage ratio of 25 percent. Troast has used aerial photos to display what he called appropriate floor-to-area (FAR) ratio, something definitely more appropriate than a smaller house on a large lot that by today's zoning standards would not be in compliance, he said.
Kauker testified that his view of the application was similar to the supplemental report by Village Planner Blais Brancheau. According to Kauker, the property does not fulfil the "unique characteristics" to merit a hardship because the hardship would be self-creating by subdividing a lot.
Furthermore, Kauker said the application doesn't significantly upgrade the area, so in his view there's no case to be made, particularly as recent the 2006 Master Plan revision looks negatively on infill subdivisions, he said.
The planning board will deliberate and likely make a ruling on April 5.