To paraphrase Jim Carville: The City Council election is about the Zoning Board, stupid!
The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decides whether or not giant buildings get built in Hoboken. Five seats on the 11-member ZBA are vacant because the City Council hasn’t appointed replacements. Three more expire at the end of this year.
This means the new City Council majority will name 8 of the 11 members of this board. Gulp!
In my opinion, the ZBA is back to its developer-friendly ways – aided it seems by at least one of the board’s professionals.
Sound harsh? At two different hearings, professionals had to be reminded that applications were subject to a zoning code provision that limits height to that of adjacent buildings. This meant the height variance being requested was not for a few feet – but for 16 feet or more, about 50 percent taller than the adjacent buildings.
The attorney for the ZBA, Dennis Galvin, seems not to like this provision of our zoning code designed to limit the height of many buildings to the height of adjacent buildings. To quote him on the wisdom of limiting heights to that of adjacent buildings: ...it would be wise for Hoboken to come up to speed with rest of the State of New Jersey.
Mr. Galvin said this during a hearing where the applicant was asking for a variance to this very height limitation. Sound like advocacy on behalf of the applicant to you? Sounded like it to me.
By the way, the height variance requested in this case was for a 4200 square-foot house. The applicant said he needed an extra floor for an apartment for a live-in nanny. Neighbors complained the extra floor would cut off what’s left of their sunlight. Rather than require a “shadow study,” which would answer this question, the ZBA accepted the opinion of a professional planner hired by the developer. He testified he went to the site in January and June and: “As you know, the sun is in completely different locations.” Good to know.
So, an under populated Zoning Board grants variances for separate apartments for live-in nannies – and doesn't make the developer check the negative effects the extra floor might have on neighbors. And their professionals have apparently gotten into the habit of overlooking a provision of the zoning code that limits height in the residential districts, unless reminded by the public. In the case of the zoning board’s attorney, that’s when they’re not engaging in what sounds like advocacy against such a provision during a public hearing.
Careful examination needs to be given to the ties city council candidates have to the development community. These folks will shortly appoint 8 of the 11 people who sit on the immensely influential Zoning Board of Adjustment – a board whose decisions can have an equally immense impact on your quality of life.