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John C. Ensslin
HO-HO-KUS – It took 27 hearings and a three-hour review, but the Planning Board on Wednesday approved a 12-house subdivision plan.
The Hollywood Avenue development was originally proposed with 11 homes in April 2014. It became the subject of an affordable housing lawsuit after the developer accused the Planning Board of dragging its feet on hearings.
As part of the settlement, the developer was allowed to add a house to the site, and designate other borough properties for affordable housing. The board was required to approve the Hollows plan by Jan. 29, or the property would be rezoned for a 45-unit multifamily development by a court-appointed master.
Attorney Bruce Whitaker spent much of Wednesday evening reminding board members that the plan was pre-approved by various agencies, and could not be changed without nullifying the agreement. Still, Chairman John Hanlon repeatedly pressed for “concession.”
For example, Hanlon asked to remove a sidewalk proposed for Van Dyke Drive because it “reduced the rural character of the neighborhood,” even though residents had repeatedly asked for sidewalks during hearings in anticipation of traffic they said would be generated by the development, and because of the street’s proximity to the Route 17 triangle on Hollywood Avenue.
Whitaker noted that Residential Site Improvement Standards require sidewalks within 2,500 feet of school buildings, and said the sidewalk would remain.
“We will follow the law,” Whitaker said. “We are not going to run afoul of the litigation settlement.”
Hanlon also pressed to move sewer and water connections from under Hollywood Avenue onto the lawns of the four homes with frontage on Hollywood Avenue to minimize disruption of traffic on the busy street and “reduce costs” for police supervision. Again, Whitaker declined.
Engineer Thomas Lemanowicz questioned developer architect Andrew Missey about whether on-site retention systems could handle storm water from 100-year event, a concern frequently raised during hearings. Missey said the project was “overdesigned” in this regard, and would hold the water on site.
The original plan was heard by standing-room-only crowds of residents, who objected to the loss of a wooded 3.66 acre property, and its location east of the borough’s treacherous u-turn triangle just off Route 17 north. Nine residents hired attorney Robert Inglima to represent them.
Inglima and seven residents were present at Wednesday’s hearing, but only four residents spoke during public comment sections. Most notably, Councilman Steve Shell spoke on his own behalf as a Hollywood Avenue resident “used to looking at the trees” of the site across the street.
‘I’m asking the board to consider an 18-inch gap between the sidewalk and the street,” Shell said. “I know when I make my left-hand turn to enter my driveway, cars are passing me on the right, and the other day someone walking their dog had to step up on what would be the front lawn to avoid being hit.”
Shell also asked whether a yield sign on Hollywood Avenue could be replaced with a stop sign, but Whitaker noted it was a county road, and the county decides on signage.
Jim Albes of Valley Forge Way asked for the developer to avoid retaining walls in favor of the natural shape of the property. Whitaker said the retaining walls created “more useable back and side yards” and would be used where appropriate as the property was excavated.
Stanley Kober of Washington Avenue questioned how the private driveway connecting two of the homes would be regulated. Whitaker said the design was conceptual, but the boundaries were clearly marked and it would be up to the neighbors to decide how they would plow and maintain the common area.
Sharon Gomez of Van Dyke Drive expressed concerns about asbestos or other toxic chemicals during demolition of a home on the site, and ‘how the neighborhood would be protected from dirt during excavation.”
Missey said the demolition company would take proper precautions, including “tenting the house if necessary” to comply with state regulations.
“We will install the usual screens an barriers to protect the neighborhood,” said Missey.
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