They said they tried to hide it but ultimately it wasn’t quite enough.
Although the Lambertville, N.J., planning board voted 5-2 June 5, in favor of a variance that would allow for two four-story townhouses to be built away from the front property line at 14 Lambert Lane, they unanimously rejected a building mass variance that would allow the building to be bigger and taller than buildings in the surrounding area.
With that vote, the proposed minor subdivision was rejected.
Block 1034 Lot 5 sits on 0.29 acres of land in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) near the intersection of Lambert Lane and Coryell Street.
It also sits in a flood zone and in the city’s historic district.
Developers Louis Bodine and George Kiriakidi, partners in of KB Landholdings L.L.C. of Doylestown, have said because of financial considerations they did not intend to reduce the footprint of the townhouses.
Kiriakidi said he didn’t know what to say in the hall after the vote, before adding the rejection of the application was “disappointing.”
In the hours leading up to the vote, Piero Grimaldi, the developer’s architect, argued the height of the building itself was within the code and did not trigger a variance, and was necessary because the law requires the living space to be a foot above flood elevation because the site is in a flood plain. He said the builder considers this requirement a “hardship.”
He showed three photos depicting how the townhouses would look from across the river in New Hope, from the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge and the view from Lambert Lane.
“I think there are some people in this room who are concerned about how this looks from across the street,” Vice Planning Board Chairman John Miller said.
Miller also asked Grimaldi if he had reviewed this city’s Master Plan.
“I did not review the master plan in detail,” the builders’ architect said.
The city’s master plan seeks to preserve the historical integrity of the city and the natural, scenic, historic, aesthetic aspects of the community and its environment.
Grimaldi said the building, a two-and-one-half story structure above a garage, would have brick around the first floor with mechanical openings for flood waters, “hardy plank siding, which looks like real wood but doesn’t decay,” and vinyl windows. It would also have a loft, which is considered a selling point.
He characterized the building “like a shore house on stilts.”
“There’s nothing I can do [about] hiding 11 feet, but we try to do our best,” Grimaldi said.
At times, the marathon 210-minute public hearing bogged down in discussing the height of the building.
“The building is going to be tall. Either we’re okay with it or we’re not,” Planning Board Member Kevin Romano said about a half hour before the vote.
“Nobody doubts these are tall buildings,” Rachel Finkle, who currently owns the lot, said. She said the builders should be able to do something that’s economically viable while increasing the tax base, which would benefit the city.
“I would like to get a certain amount of money” from the sale, Finkle admitted.
Lambert Lane resident Richard Green said the “massing and scale” of the project is out of character for the street.
“Six to eight townhouses – is that what you want to see?” developer George Kiriakidi said.
“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the issue,” the developers’ attorney, David Shafkowicz, said. Bodine said a third revision of the plan was submitted after meeting with residents who expressed their concerns.
Resident Steven Stegman, a former city council president, said residents were not against developing the property but they wanted it “more within the historical taste” of the city’s other housing.
Planning Board member Gina Fischetti continued to express the city’s environmental commission’s concerns that soil testing be done on the site prior to construction, given the city’s longtime history as an industrial area.
The developer said if there was a “dirty dirt” problem his on-site environmental professional would contact the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and a soil investigation would be conducted by law.
It was difficult to tell how the board might vote but it seemed likely that the project might be approved as the evening wore on.
It wasn’t until they were about to vote that a neighbor gave an impassioned plea to reject the proposal, which may have swayed some board members.
“This isn’t some squabble between some neighbors,” Lambert Lane resident Jacqueline Romero said. “If you say yes to this project it sets a dangerous precedent.”
Romero said she was not against developing the site but the townhouses as proposed are out of character for the surrounding neighborhood and the city’s master plan.
The plea seemed to energize the room and at one point Romero was accused by city attorney Timothy Korzun of trying to “filibuster” the vote.