Five Vacant Lots Eliminated from Development Plan
Wetlands concerns and land area requirements eliminated all but one of the vacant lots owned by Chatham Borough from being considered for development.
Only the lot at 57 Watchung Ave. will be considered moving forward.
Borough Engineer Vincent J. DeNave and Professional Planner Susan Blickstein evaluated the six proposed lots and discussed their decisions during the borough council’s Monday meeting.
DeNave said the intention behind the evaluation was to determine whether the lots met the criteria that would allow them to be auctioned for the development of single-family houses.
“There’s usually a reason why things aren’t developed,” DeNave said. “I found out the reason for each of these lots with the exception of one.”
Council President James Lonergan reminded the public that this idea was brought to the table as a way to solve the borough’s declining revenue problem. The idea, he said, was that each property would sell for $300,000 to $400,000, which would have initially allowed the borough to pull in up to $2.2 million.
Referring to the many public complaints—which were few during the meeting as a result of the borough scrapping five of the six proposed lots—this idea has received, Lonergan said it is the council’s responsibility to sell a piece of property if it is reasonable and will positively benefit taxpayers.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘It’s going to block my view,’” Lonergan said. “That’s not our responsibility.”
Three of the lots – 62 Yale St., 184 Center Ave. and 16 Walnut St. – were discarded from consideration largely due to wetland issues.
DeNave said the Yale Street property is mostly wetlands and, as a result, cannot handle development.
Despite significant sloping on the Center Avenue property, he said it was evident upon inspection that the area is wetlands with a pond of water that fills up during a storm.
To make matters more complicated, DeNave said he found out earlier in the day that area is considered an Indiana bat habitat. Since the animal is endangered, DeNave said Indiana bat habitats require a 150-ft. tree buffer, as opposed to the normal 50-f.t buffer.
The additional requirement makes development on the Center Avenue lot impossible.
The engineer said the borough would face a similar obstacle on Walnut Street at a location where Day’s Brook, “although on the far edge of this property and well-maintained in most areas,” floods the property.
“When Day’s Brook gets to a certain point, half of this lot acts as a retention basin,” DeNave said.
During public discussion, Joseph Marts, a former mayor and councilman, echoed the concerns about Day’s Brook, citing a public works truck that had driven into the brook during a recent storm.
Direct Sale Lots
While neither the North Hillside lot nor the Chatham Street lot had wetland issues, both are corner lots that require additional setback requirements.
Blickstein said the North Hillside lot is “more than a little undersized” and does not meet area or width requirements. While the Chatham Street property met area requirements, it did not pass on frontage or width.
Although she said corner lots obviously exist in Chatham, she didn’t see many in the neighborhood that are as constrained for area and width as these two properties would have been.
DeNave said the borough can still profit from these lots via direct sale to an adjacent property owner.
“This could provide a significant benefit for a property owner, allowing them to expand their house,” DeNave said.
Resident Susan Young, of Center Avenue, asked if it is possible to split the lots that are open to direct sale so that two neighbors can purchase parts of the properties.
Lonergan said the borough would consider it as long as it receives a decent revenue return.