WESTFIELD — The Westfield Planning Board met on Monday night to discuss the application submitted by Bronx Realty LLC for a two-story addition to create 10 residential units at 184 Elm Street, above the former Keller Williams office, next to the First Baptist Church.
The site requires a variance for off-street parking to accommodate the mandated 10 required parking spaces for the residential units in addition to six spaces for electric vehicles. On weekdays, the applicant has access to 27 parking spaces in the back lot that is shared with the First Baptist Church.
They are looking to designate a number of these spots in the shared lot to be reserved for residential tenants.
However, Bronx Realty LLC is not the only one that uses the shared parking spaces. Warren Hanscom of 740 East Broad Street testified that the Westfield YMCA, Mobile Meals and the New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition are tenants of the church who also use the shared parking lot.
Residents expressed concerns about parking availability and increased traffic as a result of the residential units. However, vice chair Michael LaPlace said that there are alternative parking areas nearby including metered parking on Orchard Street and parking in the two nearby municipal parking lots. In addition, Elm Street is located on a bus line and within walking distance of the train station.
The board unanimously voted in favor of the application with the variance for a shared parking plan between the applicant and the church.
Gregory Blasi, the architect representing the applicant, explained that the addition to the existing building, which includes an elevator, lobby areas, residential apartments and two commercial units, including the existing bank, will “be a backdrop” and fit in with the other buildings on Elm Street.
“It will have masonry and balconies and it will look much like the [buildings] that Westfield maintains,” he said.
Professional planner Kate Keller added, “This is taking an existing one-story, older-type commercial building and the owner is thinking to add two floors of residential above it in a way that compliments the site and meets the standards that are set forth in your Master Plan for downtown Westfield.”
In other business, the board also voted to approve Westfield Station-Fidelco’s application to reconfigure the parking lot in the strip mall next to Westfield Seafood on South Avenue to add three parking spaces that comply with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations and two crosswalks. The variance was approved with the condition that the applicant proves that New Jersey Transit is the owner of the back lot.
There was some debate about the ownership of the back lot. David Stires, the engineer representing the applicant, said that they lease 16 parking spaces in the back lot from New Jersey Transit. However, Town Planner Don Sammet said, “My records show that property [that the train station is leasing to them] is owned by the town of Westfield.”
Mayor Shelley Brindle said she applauds the applicant for their compliance with ADA, which is something that is important to the planning board. She also said that the applicant’s property, which is adjacent to the office buildings that will be built as part of the One Westfield Place redevelopment, makes the strip mall one of the “biggest beneficiaries” of the redevelopment.
Mr. LaPlace also said the application is a “positive and practical evolution of the site” and that in addition to supporting the application, he also sees “down the road the future for exciting redevelopment proposals [of the other lots].”
The last order of business on the agenda was the application by 743 Central Ave, LLC for an expansion of a mixed-use building, which currently houses Central Barber Shop on Central Avenue next to Krauszer’s. The proposed alterations include a commercial space on the first floor and three residential units on the second floor. The application requires variances for the building to be set back from the road, which was a concern for some of the board members.
Board member Ross Goldstein said that while other buildings on South Avenue contribute to the open streetscape, this building is set back on the property. “It just seems like such a miss not having that building pulled forward on Central Avenue,” he said.
Additionally, Mr. LaPlace said he was concerned that the building’s storefront wouldn’t allow for interaction with the community and pedestrians.
“That sea of asphalt, it’s really unfortunate,” he said. Mr. LaPlace suggested that the landscaping at the front of the building be extended to the sides of the parking lot and the addition of a window facing South Avenue.
The application and variances were unanimously approved with the stipulations for landscaping and the added window. “Thank you for your investment in Westfield and in particular on that section of Central Avenue which is well needed and overdue,” Mayor Brindle said.