The rezoning and redrafting of density and bulk requirements are natural outcomes of a Master Plan reexamination process. In fact, during the 1986 Master Plan reexamination, the Township implemented many rezonings, including the downzoning of sections of R3 multi-family zones to R2 two-family zones. This included properties which are proximate to the areas currently being considered for rezoning.
For example, properties on Montague Place, Portland Place and Francis Place were downzoned from R3 to R2 to reflect the predominance of one and two family houses, as were properties on Mission, Maple and Elmwood Avenue, exactly what is being proposed now. This is nothing new.
You cannot reach each and every community goal without compromise and a realization that they are all connected in some way, and addressing one may have an impact on another. We want more open space, smaller buildings and less development, but we want more tax ratables. We want more affordable housing, but we want less development and more open space. How do we deliver it all?
Critics say that the downzoning of the Upper Mountain/No. Mountain/Claremont areas eliminates the opportunity to create affordable multi-family housing under the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO). This argument is not supported by the facts.
Even under the current R3 zoning and with the IZO in place, developers have kept their development proposals under the IZO threshold of seven units. This is no accident. 21 No. Mountain Ave proposes six units, 24 Upper Mountain Avenue proposed five, and 25 No. Mountain Ave proposed five. All would eliminate more modestly priced housing than what was proposed. Three apartments at Midland and Walnut were lost to get two $1+ million dollar single-family houses. The facts demonstrate that builders eliminate less expensive housing and replace it with more expensive housing.
So do we keep the R3 zoning in place with the hope that affordable housing will be built there? At what expense? More teardowns of older homes, loss of open space and construction of large-scale developments which are not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and still no on-site affordable housing?
When you ask builders why they must build so many units on a particular piece of property, we almost always hear them say, “Well, that’s what your zoning allows.” In other words, Montclair, if you don’t want it that way, then why does your zoning allow it?
The point is that zoning is an appropriate legislative tool to shape a community’s development – that’s its purpose. The Planning Board and the governing body, with public input, get to design the land use pattern. The adjustments we are now proposing both recognize the predominant existing land use patterns and address some of the concerns raised in the Master Plan reexamination.
Finally, to set the record straight, even now many of the R3 properties proposed to be rezoned to R2 cannot be converted to multi-family use without a variance because their lots are too small, they don’t meet the density requirements, and they cannot provide adequate parking. Many property owners with dreams of converting their two-family home into a three-family home are likely not aware of this, based upon comments at a recent Council Meeting. Conversions are not as of right, even in the R3 zone.