Former Planning Board Chairman says there is not enough parking.
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - Elk Harbor View, LLC, owners of Ocean 10, the 81- unit high rise at First Avenue and Ocean Blvd., are once again on the agenda for the March 10 Planning and zoning board meeting, this time seeking a D variance for parking and four new apartments.
Testimony for the application started at the February board meeting and is being continued March 10 after the owners agreed to adjust figures so the proposed apartments meet the borough’s minimum standard of 750 square feet for a one bedroom apartment.
“That sounds a lot like stuffing 25 pounds of flour into a 10 pound bag,” said former Planning Board Chairman Richard Stryker.
Stryker, who also is the registered pharmacist and owner of Bayshore Pharmacy on Route 36, and a borough native, has been attending all the meetings for the apartment owner’s proposals, concerned about the density being proposed, and a decrease in the quality of life for the residents who are already in the building. He also voices concern over the challenges he feels the fire and first aid departments could face with increased density and what he believes is insufficient adherence by the apartment owners to local fire and safety regulations.
The former chairman, who served on the planning board 11 years, six of them as chairman, has maintained since he first heard of the application that it would require both planning and zoning action since it requires a variance, not only for the under sized apartments but also for the insufficient number and undersized parking spaces both presently on site and further requested. The applicants subsequently withdrew their planning board application and re-filed for a variance.
The proposed apartments, which the applicant said at the February meeting were 650 square feet in size, would be taken from first floor space which has up until now been public space used by the tenants for both the locker area for the pool, the exercise room, and a community room. The exercise equipment has been moved from the former exercise room to an area created from the back entry to the building, creating a small foyer there. The only community space that remains currently is the large foyer at the main entrance to the building by the parking lot, which has been newly remodeled.
And now, after the last meeting, and a November election which replaced a former Republican with a Democrat Mayor, Stryker doesn’t like the idea that zoning board could give six public, borough-owned parking spaces on the borough’s main street to the owners of the complex.
“This is part of a plan to squeeze three more apartments into the building, “ Stryker said, lamenting that the action is being considered “without input from the Chamber of Commerce, the adjacent Municipal Harbor, or the residents who use those spaces hundreds of times every day to shop in one of the few thriving downtown districts left in New Jersey.”
Stryker recalls testimony at the February meeting when the building owner’s witnesses swore they had enough space in the building and the parking lot to add three apartments without impacting their residents or their neighbors. However, he said, “after questioning from the Board and the public, they were forced to admit the new apartments were too small for Borough standards and the parking lot insufficient for the current number of apartments in the mid-rise complex. “
The owners of the building were granted time by the Zoning Board to remove more community space from the building to increase the size of the apartments, Stryker conceded, questioning if that action is fair to the current tenants. But he objects even more because the board “ will consider allowing the privately–owned apartment house to use the scarce parking spaces on First Avenue to satisfy the 80-plus parking spaces required by the borough zoning.”
The former board chairman also derided the applicant’s argument that there was no need to add parking since many residents will not pay the $500 annual parking fee they charge for the spaces they are required to provide. The annual parking fee is in addition to the rentals charged in the complex, and the applicant testified residents who do not opt to pay the fee instead park in the Harbor parking lot, reserved for commuters. “There was no discussion as to whether the residents would be required to pay for those spots or if the Borough would assign the spaces for private use,” Stryker continued.
Coupled with the insufficient number of parking spaces, many current apartment residents have also complained parking only accommodates one parking space for persons with disabilities, “and that is under-sized.” Stryker said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires a minimum of four such sites for the density of the building. Further, other local residents living on the narrow, already crowded streets adjacent to the mid-rise complex have complained for years about residents parking in front of their houses; the Municipal Harbor has complained residents are parking overnight in spaces designed to be used for the ferry and fishing customers who bring revenue into the Borough, and borough businesses have also complained over the years there is already insufficient parking on First Avenue. “Yet, the combined Planning Board/Zoning Board appears ready to vote on the plan without input from the Harbor Commission or the surrounding property owners,” Stryker lamented.
Rents in the luxury building, which has been undergoing extensive interior renovations, range from approximately $1500 per month for a one bedroom unit on the first floor to close to $3500 for a two bedroom unit on the tenth floor, plus parking fees and electric. Both the $35 a month parking fee and the $70 per month electric fees are being raised, say some tenants who have received notices of increases to $45 and $80 respectively.
Since the application has been changed to a Class D variance, meaning it is a zoning issue, Councilman Lou Fligor is required to recuse himself from the discussion or action. Mayor Randi LeGrice’s appointment to the board, Roy Dellosso, must also recuse himself from activity on the variance which requires both zoning and planning approval. Frank Grecco is board chairman.
“The Mayor and Council should already be aware of the potential mayhem the Mayor’s unelected appointees may unleash on the Borough next month,” Stryker said, adding, “ but it remains to be seen if she will reign in her runaway Zoning Board or allow private land-owners to absorb valuable Borough land without public discussion or appropriate compensation.”
The meeting starts with a workshop at 7:30 p.m., immediately followed by the regular business and action meeting.