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Westfield Planning Board Turns Down Application Seeking Jefferson Avenue Subdivision

By Anna Murray

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

A capacity crowd filled the Westfield Town Council Chambers on Monday evening for a full agenda of Planning Board applications. The involved and lengthy discussion regarding a Jefferson Avenue subdivision allowed for only two other applications to be addressed.

The assembly of citizens thinned greatly when Planning Board Chairman Douglas T. Schwarz, announced that the Clarence Street subdivision would not be heard. Three and one half hours later, however, the anxious residents of the Jefferson Avenue neighborhood collectively breathed an audible sigh of relief when board members unanimously voted to reject the application.

Due to time constraints the Clarence Street subdivision was rescheduled for Thursday, May 15. Bearing part of the cost for that special meeting are Lisa and Richard Sanzalone. The Sanzalones are seeking preliminary and final site plan approvals for a day care center at 132 South Avenue, East. The Sanzalones’ application, originally scheduled to be heard that evening, will be the first application on the May 15 agenda.

Also rescheduled for the evening of May 15 is the application for a minor subdivision at 810 Grant Avenue.

The Jefferson Avenue subdivision involves what is currently a single lot with dimensions of 140 feet by 125 feet, or 17,500 square feet. There is a single family dwelling located on the lot.

The property has been owned by the Pleninger family for 50 years. Richard Pleninger, the applicant, proposed to create two lots via subdivision and build a single family, Cape Cod-style home on the newly-created lot.

The proposed subdivision would result in two, non-conforming, substandard lots. The Westfield Land Use Ordinance requires a minimum lot area of 10,000 square feet thus putting the two lots in violation, as the proposed square footage would be approximately 8,745 square feet, and accordingly in need of a variance.

Deemed more offensive by board members was the request for a variance which would allow 4.06 feet between dwellings rather than 10 feet.

"I have trouble envisioning how a house would not look mashed into that lot," said board member Martin E. Robins. Also requiring a variance was a proposed rear-yard deficiency of 18 feet.

Michael Kaulker, a municipal planning consultant hired by the applicant, gave testimony regarding the ability to build the proposed project.

"Although waivers for side-yard and rear-yard are necessary, the fact that the land parcel is undersized does not preclude the building of a home consistent with the neighborhood," he argued.

"Because we meet the width requirement the house will appear consistent with the others from the streetscape. The rear-yard deficiency will not be seen from the street. A smaller lot would actually be in closer conformity with the neighborhood," he concluded.

Residents of Jefferson Avenue and the adjacent Winyah Avenue could not have disagreed more. In fact, they retained James P. Flynn to represent their interests in thwarting the proposed subdivision. Among the applicants represented were the Dodd, Sexton, Klein, Hoffman, Taylor, Holiday, Fitzpatrick and Harley families.

In rebuttal to Mr. Kaulker's testimony, Mr. Flynn pointed out that except for one, all of the lots surrounding the Pleninger lot, and those lots on Jefferson up to East Broad Street, have greater square footage than the proposed subdivision.

Robert Sexton, a five-year resident of 312 Jefferson Avenue, explained, "Beyond the objective factors for denying the application, such as lack of hardship and every neighbor opposed to the project, the neighborhood will lose the tree line and feeling of openness we all enjoy. It was the reason many of us bought our houses."

Many residents echoed Mr. Sexton's sentiments. Other neighbors objected to the overcrowded "look" the project would bring to the avenue.

Joan Harley, a Westfield resident since 1996, said, "If this home goes in, I will be surrounded by blacktop. I'll be living in Staten Island, not Westfield."

Even Mr. Kaulker admitted, "the side-yard deficiency lends itself to looking overcrowded, but on the map it does comply."

Former Planning Board member, Betty List, a resident of Jefferson Avenue, spoke in broader terms. "The continued development of small side properties will change the whole community, said Mrs. List. "I strongly urge the board to reject this application. "

Earlier in the evening the board did approve the minor subdivision of 549 Edgar Road. While board members all agreed the pre-existing, non-conforming conditions had no significant impact on the application, the variance for building coverage -- 6.3 percent over what the town ordinance allows -- was the focus of some debate.

The board voted 8-1 in favor of the application with Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr. casting the dissenting vote. Also approved without debate from board members or citizenry was the application from the town of Westfield for the preliminary and final minor subdivision for 940 Prospect Street.

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