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January   7

See Spot Zone -- Rescheduled

Neal O' Shea and other pro-backyard residents of Forest Street will have to wait until April 17 for their day in court. You'll remember the controversy started over a zoning change that would allow Forest Street owners to sell their backyard land to North Fullerton Avenue businesses, so the yards could be turned into parking lots. From the Star Ledger:

The zoning change, attacked as "spot zoning" by some and defended as a rightful public remedy to address parking needs by others, was approved by Montclair's council in a 5-2 vote on June 21.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the parties entered into a consent agreement that any application to create commercial parking lots there would not be decided pending the outcome of the case.

We're waiting for a spot zoning change that will allow people to build houses in their backyards. Oh wait, maybe that's already happened.

January 7, 2006 in Only in Montclair | Permalink


I see that the renovated Victorian at the corner of Midland and Walnut has been priced at almost $1.7 million. The utterly vile McMansion squeezed into what used to be the Victorian's back yard is not yet priced.

As in the case of the monstrosities going up on the corner of Grove and Watchung, I am curious to see who will spend exorbitant bucks for a huge house with no discernible backyard.

As for the Forest Street decision, that is equally an abomination, as the quality of life of the less well-off gets trampled over by those who have money and are well-connected. The Breast Center's owner's husband was the campaign manager of Deputy Mayor Joyce Michaelson, who refused to recuse herself from the vote.

Posted by: latebloomer | Jan 7, 2006 9:29:39 AM

One point seven MILLION?!?!? Good Lord! I guess Paul Krugman is right, there is a real estate bubble. Maybe I should sell now and buy an RV.

Late, I'm not well acquainted with the Forest Street saga. How does allowing Forest St owners to make parking lots of their backyards trample the less well off? Because the renters in those houses will no longer have backyards?

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 7, 2006 11:50:23 AM

Actually Walleroo, the Forest Street residents that filed the lawsuit are all homeowners, taxpayers and registered voters (I have nothing against renters, I was one myself for many years). As for the dozens of reasons why we don't want spot zoning on Forest St. you will have to peruse the minutes of various town meetings (planning board, zoning board, and town council), along with posts on Barista and the Watercooler. We have discussed our concerns with this plan many, many times in those forums.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 7, 2006 1:12:32 PM

That's a sure way to win support Denise.

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 7, 2006 1:33:56 PM

Here are some of the details from our story (previously posted on Barista 11/29/2005):

There are a number of reasons why my neighbors and I do not support this rezoning. The deep backyards of Forest Street where meant to be buffers for the residents from the commercial development on North Fullteron. Each of us if affected by this zoning change in a variety of ways.

*My house is adjacent to the 2 properties owned by the medical practices on No. Fullerton. My property has a quirky layout - my backyard is surrounded on 2 sides by the yard of the house next door. Thus, if they get permission to use their back yard as a parking lot, even with setbacks, I could be surrounded by a parking lot on 2 sides of my property. Furthermore, access to the easement that I currently enjoy could be curtailed, cutting off or impairing the ingress and egress to my small parking area at the rear of my yard. Early plans put forth by this group were very agressive and involved cutting down trees on my property, they also would have completely cut off access to my parking area. When I asked where I would park, they suggested that I rent spaces in their new lot.

*The owner of the apt. building purchased another house on the block and promptly cut down most of the trees and paved over the yard (it was a very lush, very green yard) without obtaining permission from the town. My neigbhors that live adjacent to that property have to live with the problems created by that situation.

Specifically what we are all concerned about:

*The ugly visual effect of looking out of the rear windows of your house and where you used to see grass and trees now you see a parking lot with dozens of cars. (or a huge retaining wall, depending on layout of the lot)
*The noise pollution and air pollution that comes with the existence of dozens of cars close to your property line. Some of my neighbors have small children playing in their rear yards that would inhale those fumes.
*Light pollution. We already have this. Most of our homes are pretty well lit up at night due to security lights from existing lots.
*Security - currently, people that use these lots also use a staircase that connects No. Fullerton to Forest St. to pass through my rear yard. It's disconcerting to see strangers walking through my back yard day & night.
*Snow removal, leaf removal. Some of my neighbors have had snow, leaves & debris dumped from the parking lot into their rear yards.
*Drainage issues - there is a very steep slope between Forest & No. Fullerton. Developers may have to put up huge, ugly retaining walls and/or ramps in order to build new parking lots.
*Property values and quality of life impacted. With the existence of these lots fewer people will want to make this block their permanent home. Pressure will increase on my neighbors to sell their property to developers that are not interested in the residential qualities of Forest St, they are soley interested in building parking lots.

I could go on. We have been fighting this thing a long time. At various times through the years my next door neighbor has parked as many as 25 cars in his rear yard and put up barricades making it difficult for me to get in/out of my yard. Their argument is "because it is already paved, let's make it a commercial parking lot". And "the O'Sheas park in their rear yard, why not us?". Well to my neighbors and I there is a huge difference between residential parking (max 5 cars) and commercial parking (dozens of cars and an intense use of the space 24 hours/day).

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Nov 29, 2005 6:42:39 AM

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 7, 2006 2:19:32 PM

So the poor downtrodden who are getting screwed here are actually homeowners? Surely they aren't poor, then. And assuming that they get compensated for having their backyards used as parking lots, that would make them even less poor and downtrodden.

Seems like the people who are really unfortunate in this situation are the ones who don't want parking lots at the going price, whose nice quiet homes will now be made uglier and noisier by their neighbors' selling out. In a way, they're forced to sell whether they want to or not. That's too bad.

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 7, 2006 2:48:52 PM

I forgot to say: thanks, Denise, for the summary.

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 7, 2006 2:49:48 PM

I didn't say they were poor, walleroo. I said they are less well-off than the people who own a plastic surgery practice or a breast center which charges very expensive rates and does not accept any insurance. And whose owner's husband was the deputy mayor's campaign manager.

Forest St. is a very modest neighborhood by Montclair standards, and I would venture a guess that many of the owners have been there for a while and don't have grand incomes.

And yes, you're right, the real sufferers here are the ones, like the O'Sheas, who are not planning on selling their yards but will nevertheless be subject to the noise, pollution, and many other issues because their neighbors did.

Posted by: latebloomer | Jan 7, 2006 3:23:40 PM

Since I haven't lived in Montclair for over a year now and have been out of the proverbial loop, I was unaware of all this, Denise. Thanks for the enlightenment. Very disconcerting. And, just like all the other unsettling development changes going on in Montclair, the residents are told a bunch of malarkey about how it's "good for the township." Just like cigarette ashes are "good for the rug."

Posted by: Miss Martta (8T) | Jan 7, 2006 3:26:31 PM

Would it be fair to say that the area is mixed residential and commercial. With many former homes converted to professional offices and doctors offices. There are, still mixed in, solely residential homes. The property owners of the professionals seek to alleviate parking problems in the area. Some of the less affluent residents would like to lease part of their adjoining property for use as parking lots. Residents not needing the supplemental income are against the rezoning.

Is that a fair assessment?

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 7, 2006 3:41:16 PM

I must say I am ignorant of the process by which zoning rules are changed. Usually of object, a neighbor has to attend planning meetings. A family member of mine had property in back of his house that required a variance to build on. He went to one meeting and objected. Then there seemed to be subsequent meetings, which he missed, where the variation was pushed through. Seems like they kept holding meetings until the neighbors one day didn't show up. It seems to me the burden should be on the people seeking the variations to obtain approval, rather than on the neighbors to object.

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 7, 2006 5:02:33 PM

Imagine you are on the zoning board, walleroo. A group of citizens is pushing for a change and a group is opposed. At some point one side stops showing up. What would you conclude?

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 7, 2006 5:13:39 PM

I do find this to be an interesting statement:

"I don't see (this happening) in the posh areas of town. ... This is a working-class neighborhood. These people are some of the least able to defend themselves," said O'Shea, who moved to Forest Street eight years ago from New York City and today, with wife, Denise, has a young child.

(emphasis added)

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 7, 2006 5:16:46 PM

And what do you find interesting about it?

Posted by: latebloomer | Jan 7, 2006 5:48:59 PM

"Would it be fair to say that the area is mixed residential and commercial. With many former homes converted to professional offices and doctors offices. There are, still mixed in, solely residential homes"

Actually, all of Forest St. is zoned residential with the exception of Dr. King, the vet, whose office is on the corner of Forest and Glen Ridge Ave. There are no professional offices on Forest St. other than that one.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 7, 2006 8:25:05 PM

What I would conclude from this, ROC, is that the people who want the rezoning--who run businesses that would profit by it--are often more single minded than the residents, who tend to be distracted by the myriad demands of life. That's why putting the onus on the residents to show up to endless meetings to prevent change is systematically unfair.

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 8, 2006 11:16:33 PM

That is an excellent assessment Walleroo. We've been fighting various versions of this thing for years and at the same time dealing with -- changing careers, having babies, renovating our homes, dealing with family members passing away, etc and still managing to turn up to testify at numerous meetings on this issue. But it has not always been easy.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 9, 2006 6:33:50 AM

"What I would conclude from this, ROC, is that the people who want the rezoning--who run businesses that would profit by it--are often more single minded than the residents, who tend to be distracted by the myriad demands of life"

Aren't they people too? They have lives to pay for and families to raise. It is "systematically unfair" to expect the same commitment from opposing parties? If anything I would expect the residents to be more committed because they live there.

However, in this case, the law doesn't consider anyone "systematically" advantaged or disadvantaged. Yet.

(you must be in favor of Affirmative Action walleroo. Must we be ever mindfull of those for whom equal treatment places an unfair "systematic" burden?)

But from what I have heard there are residents who also favor this and seek the income that leasing their property would generate. Is this incorrect?

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 9, 2006 8:29:15 AM

In repsonse to ROC's comments...

Our neighbors are very committed. I just wanted to point out that there have been times when it was very difficult to maintain that level of committment. For example, it has been frustrating to prepare for meetings, hire babysitters, and then go over to the municipal building to attend a meeting (sometimes in the midst of a storm) only to find out that our agenda item has been cancelled at the last minute as has happened from time to time.

I should also point out that the other side has teams of lawyers and consultants working for them. They also packed the meetings with their employees and tenants, many of whom read their testimony from obviously prepared scripts. This is what we are up against.

As for your other comments, early on my husband polled our neighbors and almost every one of them signed our petition stating that they were against the rezoning. There were only 2 that did not sign. One has since moved from the neighborhood and the other one has told us that he has no intention of ever selling his back yard for a parking lot. So unless someone has recently changed their mind, we are not aware of any neighbors that are interested in this "deal".

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 9, 2006 8:48:33 AM

If no one wants to do it, then what is the issue? Or can you point me to a place where I can read a concise outline of the whole issue?

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 9, 2006 9:09:14 AM

Concisely - the issue is that the proponents of the plan already own several houses on the block (5 in total). They rent these houses, they don't live in them. They are the ones that desire to turn those backyards into parking lots (and in at least once instance have already gone ahead and done so without obtaining the proper permits). Clearly, they also desire to obtain more backyards and/or houses if possible. IMHO, if this rezoning is upheld more pressure will come to bear on those neighbors that live next door to these parking lots. People will either move because they can't stand living next to parking lots, or they will sell their yards and therefore put more pressure on their neighbors to sell.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 9, 2006 10:28:42 AM

Of course people are everywhere. But the people who run the businesses and who want the parking lots are at a big organizational advantage, that's all. I'm not saying their rights and ambitions shouldn't be heard and considered. I'm saying that the system is skewed in their favor, unless the residents happen to be lawyers.

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 9, 2006 10:46:38 AM

Still can't make out the players here.

"Concisely - the issue is that the proponents of the plan already own several houses on the block (5 in total). They rent these houses, they don't live in them."

I take this to mean that on your block there are owners of residential houses which are rented out (not to businesses, but to residential tenants) who favor the change. Are the owners of those buildings the ones Walleroo thinks have a "big organizational advantage" ?

Posted by: Right of Center™ (8T) | Jan 9, 2006 10:52:44 AM

So none of the people who favor the parking lots actually LIVE there (at least according to Denise's representation).

Posted by: walleroo | Jan 9, 2006 10:55:16 AM

That's correct.

Posted by: Denise O'Shea | Jan 9, 2006 11:08:37 AM

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