Trees are being cleared from an empty property on Wildwood Avenue to make way for a house.

By Jaimie Julia Winters

Wildwood Avenue resident Roger Paradiso woke up Monday morning, Aug. 20, to the sound of chainsaws and falling tree limbs at a neighboring property that has been vacant and heavily forested as far back as anyone can remember.

It was more than a year ago, in April 2017, when the Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment approved an application by Eileen Opatut and Joan Garry to build a single-family home on the 50-by-207-foot lot at 62 Wildwood Ave. Two variances were requested — for 50-foot frontage  compared to the required 70 feet, and for off-street parking to be placed in front of the home. The applicants bought the property earlier in 2017 in order to downsize into a home they would build, according to Opatut’s testimony at the meeting.

A deed transferral, dated Jan. 18, states the property is now owned by 62 Wildwood Ave LLC.

A call to the Community Services department on Aug. 20 confirmed that the town had approved the tree clearing, which means the land will soon be developed and the home built.

Neighboring homeowners were notified of the application in March of 2017 and attended a Board of Adjustment hearing meeting voicing their concerns over the lot’s development, but Paradiso said they were unaware that the application had been given a final approval until the tree clearing began.

“We don’t know how the town could approve this given the 20 feet [missing from the lot size]. They should not allow these developments on these little slivers of properties,” said Paradiso. “It adds density and we are losing a large number of trees. It’s a poor division.”

According to the resolution, plans call for a two-and-half story home, with both the detached garage and off-street parking in front of the home. Because of the lot width, a driveway would take away from the home’s square footage, the applicant argued.

While other dwellings on the block, between Grove and Division streets, have off-street parking behind homes accessed by driveways, 66 and 68 Wildwood Ave. have similar garages located in the front of the home, according to the applicant’s attorney Alan Trembulak.

Architect John Guadagnoli, who has built a home on Gray street, submitted the plans for the home.

In March 2017, the board approved the variance request of the minimum lot width, but denied the variance request of front yard parking. The next month, the board also approved the application with the front yard parking.

Earlier this month, the planning board approved a Washington subdivision creating two 50-foot lots where 60 feet is required. The plans for that single-family home are Guadagnoli’s as well.

READ: Subdivision approved for Washington

At the meeting, Peter Steck, former Montclair planner, presented a map focusing on 143 properties in the Washington Street area, of which 68 percent are below the 60-foot front width requirement; most of those were 50 feet or less.

He blamed a 1987 master plan revision for creating the 60-foot requirement on Washington Avenue.

A tax map of Wildwood Avenue from Grove to Division street shows that out of 20 properties four are 50 feet or less, nine are 60 feet or less and seven are 65 feet or more.

Paradiso called the development poor planning.

Planner Janice Talley did not respond to an email asking if the 1987 master plan revisions included increasing the requirements for Wildwood Avenue frontages.

“This density is out of character with the town. Adding more people leads to economic and social problems,” he said.

Talley said the developer will have to comply with the town’s tree policy on tree replacement. The developer was required to pay $15 for each tree removed and will be required to replace every tree taken down. In lieu of replacement, the contractor will pay $250 per tree, which will go into the town’s tree replacement fund, according to township code.

Jaimie is an award-winning journalist and editor.