Joe Gorga, husband of Melissa Gorga of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” was at the Township Zoning Board of Approval on Wednesday seeking several variances for a house he plans to build on Stonebridge Road. LINDA MOSS/STAFF
By LINDA MOSS
Melissa Gorga, one of the stars of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” already owns a boutique in Montclair. Now her husband is seeking township approvals to build a lavish house on a slope on Stonebridge Road.
Last week Joe Gorga and his attorney and architect appeared before the Township Zoning Board of Approval with an application for variances to construct a four-story house, not for his family but for sale, on a nearly half-acre site.
The house that Gorga, a Montville resident, originally proposed would have had four stories, four bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms, and be built on a vacant site sandwiched between Stonebridge and Valley Way.
But after several zoning board members raised objections to the variances that Gorga sought, he and his representatives agreed to revise their plans. Last Friday Gorga’s architect, Anthony Garrett of Ridgefield Park, submitted updated plans that took the house down to just 3 1/2 stories, by moving a sub-basement garage to ground level.
The hearing on the matter was continued until a special zoning board meeting on May 22.
After last week’s meeting Jerome Sahlman, a Montclair real estate agent and developer, said he and Gorga have partnered on a number of real estate projects in Montclair, including a renovation at 105 Bellevue Ave., a new house on Douglas Road and apartments on Claremont Avenue.
Asked why he was looking to develop in Montclair, Gorga said, “This is a great town. … It’s like a little Manhattan. That’s why I come here.”
Gorga’s wife, Melissa, owns Envy, a clothing shop on Bloomfield Avenue, in addition to appearing on the Bravo reality TV show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” the program that kicked off the network’s “Real Housewives” franchise. Gorga has also done a fashion jewelry line for HSN.
The 6,600-square-foot, single-family dwelling that Gorga wants to build would have a driveway on Stonebridge. Garrett and several board members conceded that the plot was difficult to build on, because it is on a hill.
“We have a hardship in developing this site,” Garrett said. “We attempted to work in the grade.”
The proposed home design originally called for a three-car garage on the basement level, which counted as one of the home’s four stories, as well as retaining walls on both sides of the driveway.
Local zoning regulations only permit a 2 1/2-story house on the site, so Gorga was seeking a variance for four stories. He also applied for variances to have the retaining walls be higher than the mandated 4.5-feet high and for the house to be just four inches high than the 35 feet set by the township.
Several board members, including Susan Baggs, said that if the driveway was placed on Valley Way instead of Stonebridge there wouldn’t be the need for the variances.
“The applicant has actually created the situation where they need to ask for these variances,” she said.
When questioned, Garrett said that the developers wanted the house to have the prestigious Stonebridge Road address.
The site where Gorga wants to build is located in a historic estate area, which was developed by wealthy residents in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.
“The difficult issue is the height and the number of stories,” Zoning Board Chairman William Harrison told Gorga and his representatives. “And we have faced this a number of times because of the number of properties in Montclair with a steep slopes.”
But in past cases the board was willing to permit homes with 3 1/2 stories to be constructed on hilly property because of their topography, according to Harrison.
By eliminating one story from his proposed house, Gorga will need only one variance from the township now. In his updated plan he no longer is seeking to built the house or its retaining walls higher than the township code permits.
Joe Gorga, husband of Melissa Gorga of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” wants to build a house on a sloping nearly half-acre vacant lot on Stonebridge Road. LINDA MOSS/STAFF