By Ron Leir
For many years, the small dental office at 612 Belgrove Drive, between Midland and New Lawn Aves., in Kearny – set back from the street by a row of neat green hedges – was a welcome part of the landscape for neighbors.
But now the location – which was vacated about a year ago after the passing of the occupant – has turned into a Third Ward war zone, with neighbors pitted against a new owner who wants to take down the small office and replace it with a new two-family residence.
The dispute goes before the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at Town Hall, 402 Kearny Ave., after two previously scheduled hearings were postponed due to scheduling conflicts and equipment issues.
An application filed with the board by attorney Gary Bennett, on behalf of the property owner/developer Maria Domingues, says that Domingues wants to demolish the office and, in its place, build a two-family home on the existing 10,600 square foot lot.
Since the area is zoned for R-1 (residential one-family) use, the applicant will need a variance from land use regulations to proceed with the proposed venture.
In support of the project, Bennett notes in the application that, “… the neighborhood is interspersed with commercial uses as well as multi-family dwellings in close proximity of [612 Belgrove Drive]….”
And he goes on to say that the new structure – being designed by Lyndhurst architects Guzzo + Guzzo – “ … will be in harmony with neighboring property owners and will provide aesthetic enhancement ….”
However, at the last zoning board session, upset neighbors packed the chambers in anticipation of getting more information and airing their views. They’ll have to wait until next month.
Among those disturbed by the project is Deputy Town Clerk Lyla DeCastro, who also serves as a mayor’s aide and the town’s Recreation Commission. She and her parents live a few doors away from the development site.
“We want [the applicant] to conform to the zoning law,” DeCastro said. “A two-family house would not be consistent with the character of the homes in our neighborhood. I’d say we have about 60 one-family homes on Belgrove, from Locust to Pavonia (Aves.).”
DeCastro acknowledged the presence of a multi-family residence on the other side of Belgrove but said it was built several decades ago “and has detached garages in the back,” so as not to take away street parking from nearby residents.
“We want to preserve the neighborhood’s character – the historic value of Colonial, Victorian and ranch homes,” DeCastro said. “Otherwise, why have an R-1 designation?”
Another opponent of the project is Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, who represents the area and lives around the corner from the proposed project site. “You’d be putting too big a house – which would have parking underneath the house – on too small a lot,” Doyle said. “And it doesn’t fit that neighborhood.
“Now, is that reason enough to have it defeated by the zoning board? I don’t know. But if you do permit one of these [two-family homes], what’s to stop the next [applicant] from knocking down a [singlefamily] house and putting up another two-family?”
Doyle said the issue brought to mind another controversial zoning case that was heard “eight to 10 years ago” when a developer filed an application to put up two 2-family homes on Clinton Ave. in the heart of the town’s Manor section.
A pitched battle ensued between angry neighbors and the developer and, ultimately, a compromise was reached, Doyle said.
In this case, the outcome remains in doubt.