Neighbors Hear Berkeley Condo Complex Plan

Photo by Chris Lundy

BERKELEY – Applicants for a 74-unit condo complex on Route 9 had their hearing scheduled before the Zoning Board of Adjustment February 8. But, they did not present it to the board. They pitched it to their potential future neighbors in the hall outside the meeting.

The development is proposed to be built just to the south of the shopping center that houses Diesel’s Subs and Wraps. The plan changed since the developer originally applied. Therefore, they asked for the hearing to be postponed until the zoning board’s March 8 meeting. This would give neighbors and board members more time to review it before the hearing, said the applicant’s attorney, Stephen Leone.

(Photo by Chris Lundy)

The applicant said that they would answer any questions that neighbors had in the hallway outside the courtroom, where the meetings are held. About a dozen neighbors followed them out.

The development proposes 74 two-bedroom condominiums in seven buildings, said plan engineer Stuart Challoner.

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The plan had changed in a few ways. Most notably, there used to be 78 units and eight buildings, he said. Also, the buildings were moved around the property to be farther away from neighbors’ property lines. In one case, a condo complex was within 70 feet of a neighbor. The new plan has it more than 150 feet away. The new layout will keep more of the existing trees.

(Photo by Chris Lundy)

The details of the placement of buildings is not under the purview of the zoning board. Those considerations are brought before the planning board. However, the application had to go before the zoning board because the land is zoned for a mixed use: residential with some commercial component. Since they have a very small frontage on Route 9, which will be used as the only driveway into the development, the applicant did not want to have any commercial unit as part of the project. Therefore, they are seeking zoning board approval to only have residential on the site.

There would be a condo association taking care of the property, and the clubhouse, said Robert Stone, the developer. This association would be responsible for things like plowing their roads.

The buildings would be two or three stories high.

There are no plans for a traffic light at this time, he said. However, since Route 9 is a state road, the development will have to be approved by the Department of Transportation. Since the area is also wetlands, it will have to go through a permit process as per the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act.

The roads would be 24 feet wide, which is within state guidelines, Challoner said. The township ordinance would require 45 feet. However, since this property is in environmentally sensitive areas, the Department of Environmental Protection wants minimal impervious coverage – anything that rain water can’t get through. So, they opted for the skinnier streets and will have signs preventing on-street parking.

One neighbor, Mike Ricciardella, worried that a fire truck would have trouble turning around on those streets. He also wanted a guarantee that the condos would not be for rent.

The engineer said fire trucks would be able to turn around in the property.

Photo by Chris Lundy

The condos would be for sale, not rent, Stone said. There might be a portion of the housing set aside for people of low-to-moderate income. Most of them would go for about $250,000 each. They have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a garage. With two bedrooms, they would not be a heavy burden on the school district. They might not even have school-aged children. With two bedroom, Stone said he hopes to meet the need of affordable starting homes for new families.

The neighbors balked a bit at the idea of new families buying $250,000 homes.

The neighborhood that they come from is a few dirt roads. There used to be some paving, years ago, but that paving is cracked and covered by dirt now anyway. They are still on septic systems and well water. There are no gas lines or street lights.

“It’s going to be lit up and we live in the woods where nothing is lit up,” said Chris Tucker, who lives in property adjacent to the proposed development. “The best part about our neighborhood is the seclusion”

The woods there are sparse. Tucker said he can see Route 9 through 1,000 feet of trees. He said he would be able to see the three story buildings and all the lighting there.

He and other neighbors were concerned that their quiet way of life would be disrupted by 74 new families. There is already some foot traffic in the area, as young people go to a gravel pit nearby for late night parties. They did not want this development to make that problem any worse.

The March 8 meeting already has at least one other hearing, board members said. So, there was a chance that the hearing would be delayed further.