BOT approves Orange Lawn townhouses

Board of Trustees votes in favor of redevelopment plan, designates Villas at Orange Lawn for work

Orange Lawn Tennis Club in South Orange can now move ahead with developer Villas at Orange Lawn LLC to turn an empty 5 acres of its property into townhouses, following approval by the South Orange Board of Trustee at their June 27 meeting.

The board voted 5-0 to approve Ordinance No. 2016-08 on final reading, which approves the Orange Lawn Redevelopment Plan, and 5-0 to approve Resolution No. 2016-154 to designate Villas at Orange Lawn as the redeveloper and authorize a redevelopment agreement with the entity. Trustee Howard Levison was absent.

Village planner Phil Abramson said Orange Lawn Tennis Club on Ridgewood Road owns 16 acres, which will be subdivided, with 11.4 acres remaining for the club and its functions, including regular parking and overflow parking, and 4.6 acres for residential redevelopment. Abramson said that, due to financial trouble, the club needs to use that land by turning it into townhouses.

The current site is bordered by single-family homes fronting on North Wyoming Avenue to the west, Forest Road to the north, North Ridgewood Road to the east and Redmond Road to the south.

While many neighbors do not want to see high-density housing on this land, the addition of it is legal, thanks to a court ruling in the 1990s that rezoned the area to meet affordable housing criteria. Under the “unique zoning,” as village President Sheena Collum called it, 6.6 units per acre may be built on this site. If Orange Lawn had decided to turn its entire 16-acre parcel into housing, it could potentially hold 115 units.

For the 4.6 acres being turned into residential housing, there could be 33 units, though the village never intended to build more than 30 units there.

However, after residents complained that 30 units would have a “Motel 6” vibe, according to Collum, the plan was changed to break up the structures further, leaving 22 units in 11 buildings with a density of 4.4 units per acre. This was further negotiated down to 20 units and 10 buildings. According to the redevelopment plan, each dwelling will have two parking spaces inside an enclosed garage.

Under the approved redevelopment plan, the goals of the project are to improve land utilization, improve property values within the site, ensure new construction is compatible with existing neighboring construction, provide adequate buffering and landscaping, and provide affordable housing.

The development will be required to set aside four units for affordable housing. However, if the redeveloper does not wish to do so, it can pay $100,000 for each affordable unit into the village’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

As for maintaining the look and feel of the neighborhood, the redevelopment agreement stipulates certain kinds of materials be used. Sidewalk and streetscape construction can use natural stone, cobblestone, pre-cast pavers, Belgian block pavers, brick, epoxy resin-based paving systems, permeable pavers, poured-in-place concrete or slate, though the re-use of existing cobblestones is recommended. The developer cannot use packed aggregate or painted materials.

Under the redevelopment plan, the new townhouses must be set back at least 50 feet from adjacent property lines and at least 30 feet from the boundary with the remaining 11.4 acres of Orange Lawn Tennis Club, with at least 25 feet between each structure.

One aspect of the agreement between the village and Orange Lawn is allowing Orange Lawn to use a tennis bubble over its outdoor courts, making them usable during the cold winter season. As the tennis bubble — a tent-like structure to keep the courts warm and snow-free — was a condition of the deal between the village and Orange Lawn to lower the density of housing on the property, its specifications are included in the redevelopment plan.

“It was tradeoff in order to downzone the property,” Collum said. “Hopefully people can feel comfortable with what the tradeoff was, understanding that the club and their perspective is, if we are going to give something up, we need to get something in return.”

According to the redevelopment plan, the bubble can only be erected between Oct. 15 and April 15 and can only be in use between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The bubble cannot be higher than 40 feet and it cannot be used for any purpose other than tennis.

The generator to maintain the bubble should not make undue noise either, coming in at 50 decibels, with Collum reminding neighbors that “50 decibels for the generator is the same as a fridge running.”

Collum said this deal has been in the works for approximately two years. It was a process during which the village reached out to Orange Lawn’s neighbors to receive their input and dealt with Orange Lawn to reduce any issues.

“I really feel very positively about (this project),” Steven Hertz, who was representing Orange Lawn at the meeting, said during public comment. “I think it reflects very well on the community and on the municipal government. People took a pause, they had intelligent discourse, reasonable compromise. It’s the way we’d like to see our government work in general. And I think we’ve come up with something that is a workable solution for all.”

Hertz added that he thinks this process brought the club and its residential neighbors closer.

Nevertheless, some residents are not pleased with the current plan. Among them is Anne Dwyer, who lives on Redmond Road, adjacent to the Orange Lawn property.

“Since 1992 the club has known that the rezoning was its ace in the hole. No matter how badly it mismanaged its affairs, the club knew it could always make a profit by converting into high-density, multiple-family housing. Now the club is in debt, but it does not want to close its doors,” Dwyer tearfully told the trustees, saying that she is worried her home’s value will be lowered dramatically. Earlier in the evening, Collum had acknowledged that higher-density housing can lower the property value for neighboring lots.

Dwyer added that, in this situation, it seems that Orange Lawn and the village government are winning, while the neighbors are losing. “We need you to work harder to protect us, the only losers in this project,” she pleaded.

For residents like Dwyer, whose properties will be abutting the new development, issues such as sight lines, landscaping and the preservation of trees, and distance between new and pre-existing homes will be major, according to Redmond Road resident Frank DePaoli.

In response, Collum said that the village may move the buildings closest to the property line back a bit, and is looking into landscaping that obscures sight lines; she reminded that this sort of planning will be worked out before the Planning Board, where experts on such matters will testify.

She also cautioned that the village cannot at this point in the process begin to change rules and criteria, such as reducing the number of dwellings to five, as Dwyer had suggested.

“The property owners have rights and those rights can’t be changed by anything this governing body could do, which would land us in a lawsuit,” Collum said. “We did our best to get (the number of units) down as far as we possibly could.”

As for preserving vegetation, Lewis reminded that the developer is not allowed to remove any vegetation without prior approval from the Planning Board. Additionally, the redevelopment plan states that vegetation in the buffer zones — the areas between the new buildings and adjacent property lines — must be maintained.

And South Orange Redevelopment Advisory Committee Chairman Robert Cole reminded residents that it could be worse than 20 new units.

“If the club were to go out of business, a bank could easily take the property and build 105 units,” Cole said.

As for parking concerns, Forest Road resident Joan Youell asked that the village work with the neighbors to get into writing a verbal agreement previously made between the neighbors and Orange Lawn, stating that the land the club retains behind Forest Road will not be used for overflow parking.

Collum assured Youell that the governing body will be working with Orange Lawn to make this agreement a tangible reality.

One resident thanked the village and Orange Lawn for their collaboration with residents and asked that the cooperation continue with the tennis club letting residents know when events will be taking place that might necessitate overflow parking.

According to the redevelopment plan, while overflow parking may spill onto Orange Lawn’s grassy areas, it cannot be within 30 feet of adjacent property lines, though residents are still worried that the headlamps will carry the light that far to their properties.

The plan now has to go before the Planning Board, where experts will testify on such matters as landscaping, parking, traffic, design and more.