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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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Alba Cilia February 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM
It goes back to property taxes they are too high!!!'
Todd vandeweghe February 21, 2013 at 01:35 PM
The neighbors do not want duplexes. I support them. Our taxes are high. Duplex zoning will not change that. River Edge and single family homes-perfect together.
GGT February 21, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Where does one start with all of this? 1. The developer thought he would originally sell single family homes there for 650K?? The guy is/was delusional. 2. Residents are concerned about rentals we already have a ton of rentals in town, what difference will a few more make? 3. The realtor thinks the duplexes will be geared towards high end commuters?? In that location? Really? With all the choices one might have why would anyone choose that location, and pay a premium for it? It makes absolutely no sense. At the end of the day though, I do agree with the fact that something will be built, and the most likely outcome is that it will be duplexes, and they will be rentals. There never was or will be demand for high end housing (with the high taxes of course) in that area. The devleoper and his realtor should have known that in the first place.
Jim Miller February 21, 2013 at 03:40 PM
A correction. Affects the whole neighborhood. Change is proposed from Lincoln to Gates. Thank you councilman Ed Mignone and councilman Alphonse Bartelloni for saying no. The entire neighborhood is a 100 plus houses. Other councilman should listen to us. Were the experts on our area. Our taxes and mortgage payments give us that right. Also, the Mayor only votes when there is a tie. We need two more council peoplle to agree with " We the people" Thank you to the many residents coming out and getting signatures opposing this duplex zoning district spot zoning Attempt. I and We the people should be satisfied. This change is Bad for River Edge for the numerous reasons all have expressed. Thank you. Jim Miller. 885 Park Ave
Eamon Harbord (Editor) February 21, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Jim, Thanks for the correction. I'll amend the article to include Gates Avenue now. Eamon
Patricia Arlin Bradley February 21, 2013 at 04:29 PM
The concern about "a few more rentals" is a valid one. There are many of us in the immediate area who have bought and rehabbed homes and actually live in the neighborhood. We care for our properties and the community in which we live. I have been a landlord and can tell you firsthand that the character of a community changes--and not for the better--when you have a high percentage of rentals. I didn't want to be rude and laugh out loud at the supposition that young, affluent buyers would move out from NYC and buy these houses. They will be right on top of the railroad tracks--and, oh yeah--we're not on a midtown direct line! There is no premium to be had for having to switch trains in Secaucus. I applaud our council members who had the courage to say "no" on this question. I hope the others will listen. Let's spend our time and energy improving the Kinderkamack Road commercial district and the Huffmann Koos site. Those are projects that will really help River Edge. And thank you, Eamon Harbord, for quoting me correctly. Much appreciated!
GGT February 21, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Patricia: I don't disagree with you. But I think at this point the horse has left the barn. We already have a lot of rentals in town. There are those who might argue why should most of the rentals be concentrated in one end of the town as opposed to another. Also we have the condo project that was approed (I believe) on KKR across from the apartments, again the developer and or realtors would have us believe that young NYC affluent professionals will buy these things. In my mind that is a laugh. It is going to be located on one of the worst spots on KKR in town, and across the street from the apartments. Sure a few of these things may sell. but the chances are most of these too will become rentals. So again I humbly offer what difference at this point will a few more rentals make anywhere in town? I don't think it i would have been rude of you to point out that affluent buyers would not buy houses or condos on top of the railroad tracks. Developers and relators should be called out on this nonsense when they spout it out. How they can even say it with a straight face is amazing.
Big Daddy Don Garlits February 21, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Two more ugly houses, this time in a horrible location. Take a look on trulia.com and see how many of these newly constructed giant McMansions in town are in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure. What ever happened to a nice three bedroom house with two bathrooms. Throw in some out of town builders who don't care one bit about our town taking advantage of illegal immigrants for 7 dollars an hour, using the cheapest materials from Home Depot and you get the end of a once quaint town. The town just loves the $20,000+ taxes so they just keep approving all of it. I have lived in RE for 13 years and the change in remarkable. It's really a shame. At least Oradell is still nice.
summer chaser February 22, 2013 at 01:24 PM
your comment.... at the end of the day though........ and only a few more rentals. This builder bought single family zone and with or without assessments... To change the zone for a builder is not fair to residents especially on those blocks. The builder was said to have bought 3 years ago. Well the housing market fell and its bad times for all. To allow this builder to change the zoning would further hurt RiverEdge. This would not give more tax revenue but more people and perhaps more children. and these would be rentals. which usually bring down the neighborhood further. KEEP the zoning the way it is......... RIveredge doesn't need anymore multi family rentals and certainly no more mulit children family renters. We need to avoid this to keep the good town of RiverEdge.
RiverEdgeFirst February 25, 2013 at 04:36 PM
So the answer still remains that property taxes are too high and need to be lowered to reflect the actual economic / local market. To get around the issue of high property taxes, the council has voted to re-zone a small area of River Edge for multi-family / rental properties, with the justification that the result is increasing the potential tax base. Why subject only a portion of the town to multi-family re-zoning? I think only fair to consider adopting the ordinance for the entire town. If it is not suitable for the entire town, they it is not suitable for just a portion of it. Regrettably, this vote has begun to change the character of the town.
RiverEdgeFirst February 25, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Would not a better solution be to not penalize new construction with higher taxes? The new re-assessment has skewed higher taxes and major burden to new construction. Lowering property taxes and making taxes more equitable should be the goal, not increasing town density, associated costs and changing the single family character of River Edge. We have sufficient rental capacity already.
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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