Bloomfield Project Hearing Thursday

By on January 10, 2013

The red lines indicate the rough boundaries of the two lots included in the proposed development.

UPDATE: The hearing has been postponed to February. DMH2’s lawyer is out of town.

The Verona Board of Adjustment will meet tonight, Thursday, January 10, for what will likely be the final hearing and vote on the proposal to turn 176 and 200 Bloomfield Avenue into a mixed-use development.

DMH2 LLC, a Sparta-based developer, has been before the board since June with a plan to level the steep, wooded lots and construct 7,000 square feet of commercial space and 14 two-bedroom rental apartments. Though the site is zoned for a mixed-use development under Verona’s master plan, the developer needs five variances to make the project happen as currently envisioned.

Verona’s zoning calls for an equal distribution of uses in a mixed-use development. But as proposed, the DMH2 development would be about 70% residential and 30% retail. DMH2 witnesses have attempted to convince the board that their plan merits a variance because it would keep the ground-floor commercial usage facing the commercial corridor, Bloomfield Avenue, and the residential usage, two-bedroom rental apartments on the second and third floors, facing the single-family homes on Montclair Avenue, one of the two streets that abut the project. Most of the properties in that stretch of Bloomfield Avenue, which is just east of Everett Field, are single-floor retail spaces. In addition to a retail-residential split, a new building on the site could also be split between retail and professional office space.

The original site plan for the proposed development.

Under questioning by the board in November, a DMH2 witness conceded that the project needs elements other than ground-floor retail to be financially viable. The property is currently bounded along Bloomfield Avenue by a large retaining wall, which is showing its age in places. The cost of replacing or removing that wall and leveling the property to Bloomfield Avenue would be substantial.

The other significant variance turns around the proposed use of retaining walls in the development. The plan calls for extensive retaining walls on two sides of the property, with the building tucked into a right angle created by the walls. Verona’s current zoning allows walls as high as six feet. The walls proposed by DMH2 would be terraced to come up to a total height of 26 feet on one side of the development.

Front, back and side elevations of the project.

Residents of Montclair Avenue and Westview Road, the two streets adjacent to the property, have organized to block the development. They have created a Facebook groupagainst it, which now has 535 members. They have also delivered leaflets about the project to many residents, especially on the eastern side of town.

Much of the opposition to the project has centered around the blasting that would need to be done to level the site. At a meeting in October, a witness for DMH2 said the site might require 90 days of work, with five to seven blasts per day–which he characterized as “small”–to clear it. One house on Westview Road is set so far back from that street that it is almost on the line between the two properties. The October witness said that blasting, which takes place under heavy mats designed to control vibrations and rock sprays, would stop nine or 10 feet from the property line. The rest of the rock near the home would be removed by drilling. Blasting is regulated by the state, and not the Board of Adjustment, so there is no variance needed for that work.

Tonight’s meeting will be held in the ballroom of the Verona Community Center, beginning at 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

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