A dentist has been granted permission to move her dental practice into a single-family house at 3640 Lawrenceville Road, on the corner of Lawrenceville Road/Route 206 and Province Line Road.
In a 6-1 split vote, the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a use variance to permit dentist Radwa Saad to move her Hamilton Township-based dental practice to the house at its Oct. 26 meeting.
Zoning board members Joseph Blaney, Olga Dember, Joseph Forte, Sheila Grant, chairman Christina Hultholm and vice chairman Charles Lavine voted “yes.” Zoning board member Jeffrey Johnson voted “no.”
A use variance was needed because a dental office is not a permitted use in the Environmental Protection-1 zone. The property had been used as a single-family house with a home occupation medical use by chiropractor David Maffei, who received zoning board approval for the use in 1997.
A home occupation is limited in size and scope, and the house must be owner-occupied, according to a memorandum from Assistant Municipal Engineer Brenda Kraemer. Saad had requested conversion to a full dental office for her dental practice, Premier Dental Arts, to include eight employees and seven treatment rooms.
Unlike Maffei, who lived in the house and operated his chiropractic practice in part of it, Saad will not live in the house.
A use variance runs with the land, which means that a future owner could use the property as a dental office. A new owner would have to comply with the conditions that have been imposed on Saad. If the owner wants to expand the hours or make other changes, he or she would need to go back to the zoning board.
Saad agreed to limit the dental practice to Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be office hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on alternate Saturdays.
She will be the only dentist.
Planner Paul Gleitz, who represented Saad, said the application is an adaptive re-use of an existing house in a residential neighborhood – “not like dropping in a glass office building.” The house will keep its residential appearance, he said.
Reaction to Saad’s proposal was mixed during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Some residents objected to the plan, while others – many of them Saad’s patients or former patients – supported the application. Several meeting attendees said the new owner would improve the appearance of the property and make it presentable.
Felicia DeVincenzi, who objected to the application, said there is office space available on Franklin Corner Road which would be better suited for the dental office, but Saad said it has always been her dream to own her own building and office space for her practice. The house is the right size for her practice, she said.
Paul Larson questioned whether granting the use variance would set a precedent for “commercializing” Route 206/Lawrenceville Road from this location all the way to the Lawrence/Princeton border.
There are other properties nearby that are businesses, but the owners live on the property, Larson said, pointing to Peterson’s Nursery and Lavender Farm. Both businesses are on Route 206/Lawrenceville Road.
Evelyn Gill, whose home abuts the property, said she did not object when Maffei requested permission for a home office, but the dentist’s office will change the residential character of the neighborhood.
There will be additional parking – Saad has asked for 15 parking spaces – and both driveways on the corner property will be put into use, Gill said. The driveway on Route 206/Lawrenceville Road was the one that was most used, but now the driveway on Province Line Road also will be put into use, she said.
Rick Miller, who is the president of the North Lawrence Citizens Association, said the goal of the Environmental Protection-1 zone is to maintain the rural character of northern Lawrence Township. Approving the use variance is a “major deviation” from the purpose, he said.
“It could open a Pandora’s box,” Miller said.
Among the supporters of the application, Deena Mottola Jaborska said the property is an “eyesore.” The fence surrounding the property is in disrepair. The dental practice is “more low impact,” and there won’t be much traffic in and out of the dental office, she said.
Thomas Sommers, a Lawrence resident who is Saad’s patient, said people are worried about “a little thing.”
“She is a real doctor. She works with her heart. She loves what she is doing. Why won’t you let someone come into the area who can help you?” Sommers said.
When zoning board members were asked to vote, Johnson said he was not convinced that the use variance should be granted. Approval of use variances “should be kept in check,” he said as he cast the lone dissenting vote.
Zoning board member Joseph Blaney said he understood the objectors’ concerns, but the dental office would be a similar use to the chiropractor’s office. He said he did not see much “divergence” between the two uses, and that it would be cleaning up an eyesore.
“I know some people are not going to be happy about it, but it’s not like it’s a huge dental practice,” Blaney said.
Zoning board vice Chairman Charles Lavine said that Saad’s use variance request was not an easy application, but it stands on its own merits. He said he did not think it would set a precedent.
“I was almost totally against it at first. It would be an encroachment on Lawrenceville Road – an encroachment into a commercial building – but after listening to the testimony, I have a very different perspective,” Lavine said.
Zoning board Chairman Christina Hultholm said she felt similarly to Lavine, but as the zoning board learned more about the dental practice, “it’s not a typical small dental practice. It is more specialized,” she said.