Controversial Duplex Ordinance Heads to Planning Board for Review

An ordinance to allow duplexes on Park Avenue was abandoned just before the end of 2012 but has now resurfaced.

With council chambers packed to capacity by Park Avenue residents, the River Edge Mayor and Council introduced a proposed zoning change ordinance to allow duplexes along the eastern side of the street.

The ordinance, approved 4-2 with Councilmen Ed Mignone and Alphonse Bartelloni casting the nay votes, will now head to the Planning Board for reivew in March.

"There are a lot of larger issues down there," Mignone said. "We have seven of 12 affected property owners speak out against this. Mr. Caleca had every right to come here and request a zoning change. He presented a good plan. If we can't convince you this is the right to do, we shouldn't tell you we're doing this for your own good."

Developer Joseph Caleca was initially approved to construct a pair of five-bedroom single-family homes on Park Avenue but following the borough's 2012 reassessment found himself facing the prospect of building houses that he would be unable to sell afterwards. The recent assessment for two newly constructed five-bedroom single family homes on Park Avenue, priced at $650,000 would come in hand with a $20,000 tax bill. He proposed utilizing the 7500-square-foot property, comprised of two lots, to feature a pair of two-and-a-half story duplexes with each side of the duplex including a one car garages.

The ordinance, which would affect the eastern side of Park Avenue from Gates Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, was abandoned at the end of 2012 to allow residents more time to review the proposal.

"I objected to the proposed zoning change in December," Jose Saladin said. "I bought my house directly across the street knowing the train was there. I put a lot of money into my house and am under water. I owe more on my mortgage than my house is valued at. I live on the western side of Park Avenue, rezone all of Park Avenue and the perpendicular streets. What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Other Park Avenue residents cited concerns over changes to their neighborhood and the potential for increased traffic on the side streets and more children in the school district. Some were also worried that if the duplexes could not sell in the current market, they would then be converted in to rental housing.

"There has been an inability to sell new housing stock in town over the last few years," Washington Avenue resident Patricia Bradley said. "The Crossroads Project for highend condos could not sell and were turned into rentals. If you put high density housing stock on the market there is a real possiblity they will not sell."

"The developer brought this property and received approval for two houses and now based on what he won't get for them he wants to try this," Jim Miller of Park Avenue added. "We're a single family neighborhood and we have some rentals moving in the area. We're concerned that the duplexes will not sell and become rentals. Rental people are not the same as homeowners."

According to the ordinance the buildings would have a maximum  height of 30 feet from the ground to the roofline, be limited to two and a half stories and the garage would count as a single story. The duplexes could only be located on a property of approximately 7,500 square feet with a lot width of 70 feet and lot depth of 100 feet. 

Additional, any construction would include a 16-foot driveway for each half of a duplex, a 30-foot front yard, 20-foot rear yard and a 10-foot side yard on each side.

"I've had the good fortune of working with Joe (Caleca) as his realtor," Liz Davis said as part of her response to resident's concerns over the duplexes bringing in additional school children. "I want to emphasize one important part, he owns the land and something will be built. Prior to buying the two lots, they were on the market for three years. There are two options. The duplexes which would be styled toward commuting professionals and priced within the range of single family homes or single family homes that would encourage families with children to move to town. Families can buy a single family home under $400,000 now and many years ago that was not an option. It's extremely unlikely that buyers with families would choose these units over single family homes."

The River Edge Planning Board will review the proposed zoning change to allow duplexes on Park Avenue during its March meeting. A final public hearing before the Mayor and Council would take place sometime in April.

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Patricia Arlin Bradley February 25, 2013 at 06:29 PM
River Edge First: I agree with you on the first point, absolutely. If you wouldn't care to have multifamily/rental properties in your neighborhood, then you have no business advocating or voting for it in someone else's. On the second point, I am torn. I know that there are some families in town who have poured their hearts and souls into rehabbing and improving older housing stock, only to be body slammed with the new assessments. I'd offer a friendly (I hope) amendment: go after the developers. They want to buy teardowns and flip them, be my guest, but make them pay through the nose for the privilege. I know, not realistic, but it's the only way to keep them at bay. BTW, we all screamed bloody murder a couple of years ago with the proposed waste station in the neighborhood, and it got dropped. Let's keep our eye on the ball here, too, and make sure we pack the planning board meeting.
RiverEdgeFirst February 25, 2013 at 10:06 PM
I would suggest the following solution: The builder needs to wait for the economy to recover, just like the rest of us. Unfortunately, his timing was off and for his investment in the property to pay-off, the economy needs to improve. The tax assessment has skewed taxes to burden newer/remodeled homes. It will take years for the current market to recover. I don't understand why we are sacrificing our quality of living, the single family character and close community just to benefit a builder who made an investment decision when he thought he could make a profit, that is now underwater. That's the risk he took and the reward he will obtain when he succeeds. The builder will not live in these homes, the neighboring residents will have to live with the consequence of the decision. We should have a town referendum to decide on building duplexes for the entire town, and not limit this change just to a decision by a divided council (ok, only two dissented).
Maryann G. February 27, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Just to put the builder's investment risk in perspective, I believe he paid something like $127K for that property? (Sorry - don't have the exact figure at hand) To me, it seems pretty hard not to be able to make a profit on that. Two 3BR single family homes?
RiverEdgeFirst February 27, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I heard him speak before the council and mayor and suggested he was distressed, because the home he was planning to build would not sell, even at $650K due to the high taxes. He was looking to bring the price level down by building a duplex with each at around $400K, with lower individual taxes and more acceptable price point. Maybe the question is how much profit should he make on the investment? The issue is a symptom of the current environment: the current tax level is the more fundamental issue: that we are not able to control the budget, of which 80% is dedicated to the school system and costs just increase every year. As residents we have the right to be taxed but not decide how high nor how the tax funds should get spent, as everything is decided for us. Most residents vote the status quo. We are just passengers in a train, without engineer or conductor.
GoHawks123 April 02, 2013 at 03:24 PM
This is no way this builder or any builder would but a 3br home on the lot


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