By Jennifer Ortiz
HOWELL – Testimony is expected to resume on Sept. 15 on MGD Holdings’ application to construct 100 age-restricted residential units in two buildings at 6461 Route 9 north, between Estelle Lane and Alexander Avenue, Howell.
Testimony was presented to the Planning Board on July 21. Attorney Steve Cohen, representing the applicant, said the application dates back to 2003.
“The applicant and the township were in litigation and as a result of that litigation, there was a settlement agreement in 2003. The settlement said the front piece of the property, which runs along Route 9 … would be designated for age-restricted housing only,” Cohen said.
In 2004, the board approved a 96-unit age-restricted development on the front of the parcel and 26 single-family homes on the rear portion of the tract.
“We are here tonight with a new site plan,” Cohen said on July 21.
Cohen said the 26 single-family homes have been eliminated from the plan. The applicant is now proposing to build 100 age-restricted rental units along Route 9. The apartments would be in two buildings of 50 apartments each and would be available to people age 55 and over.
Engineer Anthony Castillo, representing the applicant, said the applicant is seeking relief from a Howell ordinance which permits a maximum of 32 units per building. He said the application conforms to all other criteria for the property.
Castillo said a layout of two buildings is perceived as more efficient than adding a third building in order to adhere to the maximum of 32 units in a building.
Architect Laurance Appel, representing the applicant, said two buildings would allow for a more compact, efficient site, cause less disturbance of the property, produce a smaller carbon footprint and be more visually and architecturally pleasing.
The board’s planner, Jennifer Beahm, asked the applicant for a plan that would comply with the ordinance that limits the number of units to 32 in a building.
“The applicant says (the two-building layout) is a better design, but I don’t have a rendering of a compliant (plan) that shows why the (proposed) design is better,” Beahm said.
Cohen said the applicant provided a plan it believes is best suited for the site.
“If it is something the board does not like, we can certainly revisit the idea and go with a lower unit count (per building). As I said, it was a variance we thought made sense,” he said.
Beahm said it would be difficult for her to comment on whether the proposed design made sense when a conforming design was not available for comparison purposes.
“Provisions (i.e., a limit on the number of units in a building) are put in place for a reason. This is something that came up, with all due respect, in our initial review letters since about April. This is information they have known about and the fact we don’t have anything to say, ‘this is a conforming plan and this is why our deviations from that conforming plan is better,’ makes it difficult for me to give you an opinion one way or the other, on whether it actually is a better planning alternative,” Beahm said.
Beahm told the board members to keep in mind that the maximum number of units allowed on the site is 100, but she said there is nothing that says the applicant must build 100 units.
“You can build less than 100 units … if the site constraints do not allow for (100 units). There are those factors to consider as well,” Beahm said.
The board’s attorney, Ron Cucchiaro, said he understood the applicant’s position regarding the non-conforming site plan that was proposed, but he agreed with Beahm that a point of reference in terms of a conforming plan was needed.
“Our own professionals are at a disadvantage,” Cucchiaro said.
The board’s engineer, Laura Neumann, said, “To be fair, we did meet with the applicant and we did tell them (the non-conforming site plan) was going to be an issue.”
The applicant’s representatives agreed to design a site plan that conforms to the ordinance as a point of comparison with the design for a development of two buildings containing 50 units each.