WHAT IS STANLEY PROPOSING
On Sunday December 6, 2015, Stanley and its Developer, JMF Properties, met with neighbors for the first time to outline what Stanley described as an “exciting development project”. During the course of that meeting and in subsequent exchanges, neighbors learned the following:
Due to financial issues Stanley had decided to tear down its school building on Fairmount Ave. between Oliver and Orchard Streets and sell the underlying property (approximately two thirds of an acre) to raise funds to support the needs of its 60 person congregation.
Stanley acknowledged, however, that even with additional funds that in a few years its congregation could disband or move to another location which could possibly necessitate the sale of the Church.
Stanley indicated that in the summer of 2015 that it unsuccessfully tried to sell two single family lots at its site to developers via a private sale process. Realtors have advised that if those lots were put on the open market that there is a good chance that Stanley could sell them for approximately $1.2-1.5 Million.
Stanley subsequently decided to develop a three story apartment building with 12 condominium units at the site. The units would have 1,250 to 1,850 square feet of space and would each have 1-2 bedrooms. A multi-unit development project in one of Chatham’s most prominent single family neighborhoods, would likely be much more lucrative to Stanley and its developer than the sale of two single family lots.
The historic neighborhood where Stanley wishes to build a condominium project has been supported by the property taxes of its neighbors. Stanley does not pay property taxes to the Borough.
Stanley noted that it began to meet with the Mayor and the Borough Council in the Summer of 2015 about the project and the need for a zoning variance. Stanley noted that it has considerable support for its development plans from various unnamed Borough officials.
Stanley has entered into a contract with JMF Properties , and JMF will own the proposed site and develop the condominium project once the Borough approves the zoning variance.
JMF said that it will bear the cost of prosecuting the variance application before the Zoning Board, which could be expensive. JMF also noted that it is a well known New Jersey developer. Its web site indicates that JMF has been successful in developing rental units near train stations (e.g.,”transit hubs”).
Near the end of the December 6th meeting at Stanley Church, Mayor Harris arrived and asked the Stanley representatives how the meeting went. The Stanley representatives advised Mayor Harris that while the neighbors were displeased with the project, that Stanley wished to proceed “full steam ahead.”
A few days after the December 6th meeting a small group of neighbors requested another meeting with Stanley to see if there might be some way to encourage Stanley not to proceed with a plan that would hurt its neighbors and the Town. Stanley advised that it had no interest in any further meetings or discussions with neighbors–that it simply wanted the process to “play out”.
In a visit to Borough Hall in mid-December a neighbor was advised by a Borough employee that there is considerable support for Stanley’s project within Borough Hall, and that, unless there is significant opposition to the plan from the community, that it is very likely that Stanley’s zoning variance will be granted.
DOES STANLEY HAVE A STRONG CASE FOR A ZONING VARIANCE
The simple answer is that Stanley’s request for a variance to build a muti-unit development project in the Borough’s most restrictive single-family zoning area would break almost every rule in the zoning book (e.g., density, setbacks, height, lot coverage, etc.), and would make a mockery of the Borough’s Master Zoning Plan that places great importance on preserving the Borough’s historical areas, small town environment and single family neighborhoods.
A former Borough Mayor and a number of former Zoning Board members have all indicated that they are perplexed as to why the Borough would even consider such a patently non-conforming application.
The Zoning Board’s web site cautions applicants to: “(C)all the Zoning Officer before planning or starting any project. Do not spend money with a design professional until you know for sure that your project complies with the Chatham Borough Zoning Ordinances”.
On January 19, 2016, Mayor Harris inexplicably declined to meet with a small group of Preserve Fairmount Avenue representatives to discuss Stanley’s project. Mayor Harris advised that it would be inappropriate for him to meet with “parties involved in applications before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.”
That position would seem to be at odds with Stanley’s contention that it discussed the project with the Mayor in July of 2015, and the fact that on December 6, 2015 the Mayor personally visited Stanley Church to get a report from Stanley on its meeting with neighbors concerning the project.
In the interest of fairness and open government, if Mayor Harris is supportive of Stanley’s unprecedented variance application, we urge him to explain his position to voters and taxpayers.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS WITH STANLEY’S PLAN
It would set a precedent that would allow other property owners to do the same thing in single family neighborhoods throughout the Borough. Borough residents could wake up one morning and face the prospect of having a nearby property owner and its developer planning to convert a single family property into a multi-unit property simply because it suits their financial interests.
The historical and charming streetscape that has existed on Fairmount Avenue for more than a century would be lost. A dorm like condominium building across the street from houses that are eligible for listing on the National Historic Registry would be a travesty.
Chatham’s commitment in its Master Zoning Plan to preserving our small town environment and neighborhoods would be eviscerated.
Residents who relied upon the Borough to maintain the zoning integrity of their neighborhoods would see their property values significantly reduced in the blink of an eye.
The cost of supporting local government would rise as property owners near the condominium complex petition the Borough for property tax relief (which would likely exceed whatever tax revenue are received from small condominiums), and if school enrollment increases because of the development those costs would also need to be absorbed by the Town.
What is already a poor parking situation on Fairmount Avenue and Orchard and Oliver Street would be made infinitely worse. Stanley would have practically no parking for its services and activities, and visitors to the new apartment building would further add to the parking chaos.
Permitting a new mid-block stream of traffic on Fairmount Avenue from the condominium parking garage would be both foolish and dangerous. Fairmount Avenue is already one of the busiest streets in the Borough, and drivers already have significant difficulty trying to enter Fairmount Avenue from both Orchard and Oliver Streets. There is no reason to make the traffic situation any worse.
WHO WOULD BENEFIT IF THE VARIANCE IS APPROVED
The only parties who would benefit are Stanley and the Developer–they would likely make more money.
WHO WOULD BE HURT
All Borough taxpayers would experience an inevitable increase in the cost of local government.
All borough residents who value historical preservation and the fostering of single family neighborhoods and a small town environment would be hurt.
Nearby property owners who have supported the neighborhood with their property taxes would see their property values decline
All residents would be effected by the dangerous traffic situation and poor parking near Stanley.
Most importantly, however, if one property owner and its developer are allowed to turn a residential property into a multi-use property primarily because it suits their economic interests, it would open the door for other owners and developers to do the same thing throughout the Borough and forever change the nature and character of Chatham.
WHAT IS NEXT
We will be scheduling periodic general meetings to update you on where things stand and to seek assistance on various projects. We will post the dates of those meetings on this site and hope that you can attend.
We will be opposing the variance application before the Zoning Board and will be raising funds to support the legal fees of John Suminski, a Senior Partner with the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, who will be leading the legal opposition to the plan. We will post the dates of Zoning Board meetings on this site and encourage significant attendance at those meetings from this group. We need to clearly demonstrate to Borough officials, particularly the Mayor, that the residents of Chatham are strongly opposed to Stanley’s plan.
We will also be meeting with the Historic Preservation Commission concerning the impact that Stanley’s proposed development will have on the Borough’s goals of historic preservation. The dates of those meetings will also be posted on this site, and we encourage your attendance at those meetings as well.