As bulldozers keep moving mounds of dirt on the site of the former Jeryl Industrial Park off the Belleville Pike, the new owners are now proposing to put up an apartment building at the upper edge of their property.
The site targeted by Ridge Crossing LLC for this portion of the project is 682-686 Schuyler Ave. at the intersection of Laurel Ave.
Plans filed with the town construction office by Ridge principal Franceso Alessi call for a multi-story, multi-family apartment building, sloping down Turvan Road, with structured parking for up to 187 cars.
Reportedly, this 1.9-acre parcel is the only location in what the town has designated as an Industrial Park Redevelopment Area where a residential use is permitted.
The issue came to light during last Tuesday’s meeting of the Kearny mayor and Town Council who were asked to consider granting a “waiver of the height requirements” of the redevelopment area for the project.
Normally, Michael Martello, the town’s construction code official, would review such matters but Martello said that a conflict of interest – (a relative lives in a neighboring property) – compelled him not to comment on the application and passed the ball to town attorney James Bruno.
Bruno said the maximum building height allowed in this zone is 45 feet/four stories but Ridge Crossing has proposed an elevation of 49 feet/five stories.
If the deviation from the permitted height were less than 10%, the the developer’s application “could be heard by the town Planning Board,” Bruno said.
But, because the deviation fails to meet that standard, then – assuming the mayor and council were to find no other sticky points with the application – the developer could seek a height variance from the town Zoning Board of Adjustment, he said.
To this explanation, Ridge Crossing attorney John S. Stolz, a partner in the Roseland law firm Lowenstein Sandler, objected, asserting that such a “minor deviation” in height – when viewed in the context of a proposed 5-story building – “falls well within the Planning Board’s jurisdiction” and, he added, he felt his client had the right to be heard there now, instead of first having to go through the municipal governing body.
“To come to this board [mayor and council] and [for them to] put up a stop sign is a wrong determination,” Stolz said.
Nonetheless, Mayor Alberto Santos said the town was standing by its legal interpretation and wondered why Ridge Crossing “was even going through this exercise” when, instead, it could cut back on the proposed height since it involved only a minimal sacrifice.
But Stolz said that the project engineers felt that the extra dimension was critical, given that the project site slope along Turvan Road “is very long and narrow and drops 60 to 70 feet from the top of Schuyler down to the terminus of the property line,” making the additional footage essential “to accommodate the abundance of structured parking planned.”
Nonetheless, the town’s consulting engineer Michael Neglia said that while, “There is a two-family residential zone with a 35-foot height limit right across the street from your property and, while I understand the topography of the land, our concern is that I don’t want to block the visuals from across the street.”
Neglia also noted that “the condominium complex next to your property doesn’t have [the height sought by the applicant].”
Santos then ended the debate, saying that, “it’s best to decide at our next [council] meeting on Dec. 20 to determine whether the deviation on the height does not detract from the purposes of the plan or that the character of the neighborhood is not affected by an overly dense project.”
Stolz persisted, saying that the town’s own ordinance, adopted in 2007, directs that his client’s application should be heard by the Planning Board, which, he added, would then “given the public the opportunity to hear all the facts” related to the project.
Santos, in turn, insisted that it’s up to the municipal governing body “to determine the completeness of the application” before it can be passed along to either of the town’s land use boards.
Meanwhile, Ridge Crossing is dealing with another conflict with an adjoining neighbor, Arlington Cemetery, as evidenced by an Oct. 31 letter to the town attorneys from Donald Pepe, a lawyer from the Lyndhurst law firm Scarini and Hollenbeck.
Pepe, writing on behalf of the developer, asks for the town’s intervention in helping solve a “dispute on boundary line” with the cemetery. The letter says that the developer has spent $38,000 in professional fees for two appraisals and a land survey in an unsuccessful effort to resolve the matter and it goes on to say that the parties are far apart in both the size and value of the property in dispute.
“We respectfully request a meeting with the appropriate municipal officials to address the issue and obtain relief ….,” the letter says.
Asked last week about the controversy, Santos said he was unaware of any plans by the town to accommodate that request.