The Planning Board has deferred reconsidering increasing the minimum lot depth of new subdivisions after the Township Council asked the land-use authority to weigh in on a proposed ordinance changing these measurements. Planning Board members said they didn’t have enough information to make a decision on this new law.

The consensus among board members at their meeting on Monday, March 13, was that they would prefer that the board’s zoning subcommittee be included in any discussions about changing lot measurements before the entire board can weigh in on this proposed revision.

Planning Board Chair John Wynn told members they must submit a report to the council, but they could say, “we don’t have a consensus other than we have issues” with the ordinance, or “there could be a benefit but we’re not sure.” Board members agreed. 

The proposed ordinance, which was unanimously approved at its introduction Feb. 21 by the township mayor and councilors, seeks to increase the minimum lot depth in just one specific scenario: when a new street would be created in a subdivision, and only within certain zones. In this instance, if a property lot is 50-60 feet in width, the proposed minimum lot depth would increase to 150 feet from the current 110 feet in the R-O, R-O(a), R-1 and R-2 zones only. If a lot is 61-70 feet wide, the minimum lot depth would increase to 155 feet from 100 feet, the proposed ordinance shows. 

Planning Board members were concerned that changing the lot depth requirement could unwittingly impact all future housing development. They agreed that such a change must fit within the requirements of the township’s master plan, which guides new development within the municipality. 

One of the objectives of Montclair’s master plan is to “preserve the character of our existing residential neighborhoods,” township Director of Planning Janice Talley told the board. “The intent of this ordinance is to preserve the character of our existing residential neighborhoods.” That includes ensuring lot sizes are “more in keeping with the neighborhood,” she said. 

Talley told the board that the council is concerned with the small size of lots in new subdivisions that require new streets. Though it was a few years ago, the most recent subdivision, on Pleasant Avenue, has an average lot depth of 150 feet, she told the board. There is a proposal for a new subdivision on Pleasant Avenue where the lots would be only 110 feet in depth, she said. 

Board members wondered if this new Pleasant Avenue proposal is the reason the council wants to change these rules to ensure that only subdivisions with larger properties receive approval. 

Could these new depth requirements be required to “take into account the neighborhood,” Wynn said, explaining he is concerned that an incongruous development would be shoehorned into an established neighborhood and wouldn’t be “so radically different than what’s around it.” 

That’s not possible, Talley explained, because zoning “has to be applied consistently.” That is, it’s not possible to create one rule for one new subdivision depending on where it’s located, and then another rule for a different new subdivision located somewhere else in the township. But “this is much better than what we have on the books” currently, Talley told the board. 

Some board members weren’t so sure.

“I thought we want to create more housing in Montclair,” board member Anthony Ianuale said. Because lots would have to be larger, “this limits the amount of housing that could be built,” he said. 

The proposed change to larger lots might prevent the township from adding affordable housing, which are usually smaller homes, said board member Michael Graham. “We are eliminating the ability to do that,” he said. 

And a blanket approach might be harmful in ways they can’t anticipate, said board member Jeff Jacobson. “We understand they want to put some kind of constraints on new housing,” he said. “We recognize a one-size-fits-all approach is necessary” but a new depth requirement “could be doing things that are unintentionally harmful in neighborhoods we’re not trying to impact this way.” 

But Vice Chair Keith Brodock said the new lot depth proposal “seems to match better with the township as a whole.”

Ianuale suggested that the board’s zoning subcommittee be included as part of this discussion so that the entire planning board could have some context for making a decision. “It would be better than having something cooked up and thrown at us,” he said. 

Though there is very little vacant property in the township to create these types of new subdivisions, several board members said they were concerned about the possibility of a developer buying several adjacent properties, tearing down existing homes, and then wanting to subdivide and create a new street, which would trigger these new depth requirements. 

The board must submit a report by March 28 to the Township Council discussing if this proposed change is consistent with the township’s master plan. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for March 27.