Town Square: Mega-mansions: the other side of the story
By Dorothea Benton Frank
Town Square is a space for longer-form essays from Montclair residents designed to generate discussion on specific topics affecting the town. They solely reflect the opinions of the author. Topics and submissions (maximum 750 words) should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org at least one week in advance of publication for approval.
Okay, so this is the opinion piece that will probably get me run out of town on a rail but I’ve been stewing on this for a while. My husband and I live on Lloyd Road, right down the street from the location of the proposed mega-mansion that seems to have a lot of knickers in a knot.
True, my almost new neighbor, did not wait for historic preservation and zoning officials to grant their approval. He just went ahead and razed the two houses on which he spent $7.46 million. So, maybe that wasn’t so sensitive. But it wasn’t illegal. Rumor had it for years that one of the houses was occupied by feral cats. I wouldn’t swear to it but it was what the kids said when my children were little. I don’t know anything about the other one but I know a thing or two about renovation and historic homes.
Wooden frame houses, unlike stone or other heftier building materials, have a lifespan. Five years ago, my husband and I bought a clapboard behemoth on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina that was built in 1850. It’s a disaster but the town fathers, in all their wisdom, think that it might have been used as a Civil War barracks, rendering it historic. There is not one iota of proof that it was. It’s just what they think they heard somewhere from some long dead relative for all we know. It needs a complete and total renovation that will be more expensive than tearing it down and starting over. We are saving the house but, not because the township said we had to, but because there are so many infuriating regulations and rules about what we can build, that we decided to save the old dame. By doing so, we get to keep the 14-foot ceiling heights, which is probably the most appealing thing about the house that hasn’t been touched since Hurricane Hugo. But basically, we got backed into a corner. We were so annoyed that for a minute we thought about selling the black hole and leaving the island forever. But we’re not. We are biting a huge bullet and working with the planning folks down at town hall.
I suspect the owner the two lots on Undercliff and Lloyd bought the property for the view. Who could blame him? We have a view of the city as well and believe me it’s one of the things we love the most. Somehow it makes us feel a little better about the amount of hard work and sacrifice it took to have a view to enjoy.
I am reminded of Amazon and the warehouse in Queens that would have brought 25,000 jobs along with it. I didn’t understand the objections of the people then, like I don’t quite understand all the hullabaloo in Montclair over this huge house plan either. There’s something very creepy about telling someone in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave what their home has to look like and how big or small it should be. It bothers me.
Does anyone have a figure or an estimate of how much tax revenue Amazon would’ve brought to New York State? So, forget that. That money is gone. And wouldn’t Amazon perhaps have been a worthy and generous presence in the borough of Queens and worked to strengthen the community in a number of ways?
I don’t know what the new owner’s property taxes will be, but I know what mine are. Seems to me that Montclair and New Jersey might welcome the income. Also seems like he might be the kind of person who, when wooed and treated with some polite regard, might support the many worthy causes that make Montclair the unique and richly diverse cultural community that it is. Y’all think his house sounds like it’s going to be ugly? Isn’t he asking for a setback variance? You won’t even see it unless you go up there to trick-or-treat.
There was a fellow, David Tepper, who owned Appaloosa, a hedge fund based in Short Hills. When income taxes went up from 6.37 to 8.97, the richest man in New Jersey moved his business to Miami and New Jersey lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. So, what I’m saying is, let’s use our best manners, folks, or he might take his billions to Alpine. And who knows, maybe he’s a great guy.
Dorothea Benton Frank is a Montclair resident, best-selling author and pens ‘Dot’s Desk,’ a regular column in Montclair Local’s Culture section.