UNION – Putnam Manor residents came out in force to a Planning Board meeting Monday night to fight a subdivision of a narrow parcel of land bordering the Suburban Golf Club.
Although about 35 residents living in the Lancaster Road and Fairfield Way area were hoping the board would turn down the request for the minor subdivision by the end of the meeting, it did not happen.
The meeting was continued until Jan. 23 because a letter from the township engineer informing applicant Robert Leo about the need for an additional variance was never received by his attorney.
Although this threw a wrench in the entire procedure, before the meeting ended both board members and residents managed to comment on the problems associated with the application.
Initially it appeared the application to build two homes on the narrow 30-foot subdivided lots would require only a few variances, but as the meeting progressed it was apparent there were other issues involved.
Specifically, both residents and board members had problems with the fact a 120-foot driveway off Lancaster Road would be inaccessible to township fire trucks if there was a house fire. There also was a report from Township Fire Department Capt. G. Steitz “contesting variance approval” due to the “severe lack of access for firefighting operations on three sides of the intended building.”
Police director Dan Zieser also submitted a report to the Planning Board, noting that he had a concern “for vehicular turning movements” particularly as any vehicle backs out of the proposed driveway at the corner of the dead end street.
“Taking into account the very limited ingress and egress to both properties, it appears that both firefighting and police/fire/EMS response could be significantly hampered,” Zieser said in his letter to the board.
Initially, though, prior to any of this information being made public, Leo’s attorney, John Fitzpatrick, had Andrew B. Clark, a civil engineer and land surveyor testify on behalf of the proposed application.
Clark explained to the board that he tried to find feasible ways to build on the lot but the only solution he could come up with that would work was to divide the narrow parcel of land into two lots. Because the township zoning laws require certain lot width and rear yard setback requirements, this presented a problem.
Planning boards have the power to grant variances, but residents living within 250-feet of any proposed construction must be notified prior to the application being heard by the board. Any and all objections or comments are aired during the public question and comment section of the board meeting and later taken into consideration by the board prior to a decision being rendered.
In this particular case, the applicant’s engineer pointed out that because the westerly portion of the lot bordering the golf club was so narrow, two variances would have to be granted in order for the lot to be developed. Otherwise, he added, the lot would remain open land and that would be an “economic hardship” to the owner of the land.
One of the variances was for relief for lot width because the minimum width required by law is 50-feet. The other variance, for front yard setback relief, was required because one of the lots is 100-feet, which is in violation of the 35 foot maximum allowed by law.
Clark said the proposed homes were identical to those established in the area and other than the two variances requested all other aspects of the proposed construction were normal to the area. It was at this point the township engineer, Philip Haderer, interjected to explain that something was amiss.
He said another variance was required for steep slope limits because the golf club land was much higher than the adjacent land in question. However, both Clark and Fitzpatrick seemed completely in the dark about the need for any additional variances.
“This was picked up when we received the topography report,” Haderer explained, noting that a letter was sent to Fitzpatrick about the discovery. Both Clark and Fitzpatrick seemed completely in the dark about the need for this variance, and pointed out they never received a copy of the township engineer’s letter.
A brief recess was held so the applicant’s attorney and engineer could review the engineer’s letter requiring the additional variance.
Afterward, the applicant’s attorney felt the need for a steep slope variance would make the parcel of land a non-conforming lot, which would be an economic hardship for Leo.
“To develop either lot would require some relief, or the lot would be rendered virtually undevelopable without relief,” said Fitzpatrick.
Clark explained that many towns have steep slope ordinances to ensure that erosion does not take place, but it is usually solved by flattening the land so construction can move forward.
“Construction can be done correctly so no runoff or erosion occurs,” Clark added.
Board member William Morrison did not agree.
“How can you guarantee management of a steep slope?” he asked Clark, who explained that by softening the grade and capturing the runoff and routing it to a dry well in the front of the property, this could be achieved.
“It would be like pouring a bucket of water in a lake,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, board member Angel Salcedo brought up the elephant in the room – the issue of how a fire truck would be able to get down the 120-foot driveway.
“I’m not an expert on firefighting. I can’t speak to how a fire truck would maneuver that,” Clark told Salcedo, but added “a 120-foot driveway is not enormous.”
Board Chairman Joseph Cantalupo expressed that he had a problem with how any fire truck could make the sharp turn into the 120-foot driveway off Lancaster Road, but Clark did not respond.
Although Clark went on to explain about how the dry well would catch any runoff, township engineer Haderer interjected.
“Without some storm water mitigation we wouldn’t know enough to make a decision,” he said, adding that the only provision to give “relief” to the applicant was an economic hardship. He also informed the applicant’s attorney and engineer that any disturbance of a steep slope in the township ordinance was “prohibited.”
“Without a storm management report we would not have enough information to make a decision,” Haderer repeated, but Clark came back with what he felt was the answer.
“Once a lot is determined unbuildable, it is an economic hardship to the applicant,” he said. Morrison, though, felt that was not the issue. Again he stressed the problems he had with the application as it stood.
“Without an actual plan, I can’t make a decision. Just saying it can be done is not good enough. We need to know we’re not going to have any water problems for the people who live there,” the board member added.
Board Member Michael O’Hara offered Clark his copy of the township engineers report on the steep slope problem, which Clark accepted.
Board member Mayor Clifton People Jr. interjected at this point to question why the issue was not addressed by the applicant’s engineer “in the first place.”
“If you visited the site then you knew there was a steep slope. Why didn’t you address it in your report?” he asked Clark. “Obviously you saw the slope and still made a presentation without addressing the steep slope issue,” the mayor added.
Fitzpatrick blamed that on the township engineer.
“We had meetings with the township engineer and it never came up,” the attorney told People.
When residents were allowed to approach the microphone to question Clark, Putnam Manor resident Ken Schuster had a suggestion.
“At this point in time should we proceed with this application until we get answers to questions about the slope?” he asked the board, adding “given the seriousness of the questions.”
“We can start with the fire department report,” Schuster said, pointing out that they had some serious reservations about the 120-foot driveway.
“You have to make a couple of bends, outside of the fact the fire department said in their report they didn’t have access to three sides,” he said, questioning how three fire trucks and an ambulance get back to where the house would be located at the end of the 120-foot driveway.
“What about the other three homes on Lancaster Road. What happens to them if a bonfire erupts?” Schuster inquired of the applicant engineer.
“I don’t think I’m qualified to answer those questions,” Clark responded.
At this juncture, Fitzpatrick interrupted the proceeding to ask the board for a “continuance” so they could address some of these issues, specifically the need for a steep slope variance, which came as a surprise to them at the board meeting.
After some discussion regarding whether reorganization of the Planning Board after the first of the year could affect a continuance of the application, it was decided that this would not be a problem and Jan. 23 was set for the meeting to continue.