STONE HARBOR – A Stone Harbor home under construction at 113th Street and Second Avenue has sparked public concern with the borough’s lot-grading ordinance. The home’s elevation conforms to code but is so high that it has drawn complaints by a number of borough residents, who have carried the issue to governing body meetings.
Under debate is the elevation of the home to a level that will put its first floor and pool area at the second-floor level of other homes in the neighborhood, some of which were built in the last two years.
Those bringing their concerns to the Borough Council call the elevation excessive. They say the borough’s lot-grading ordinance failed to regulate elevation limits with respect to the level of the street, which in this case, according to one concerned neighbor, is 8.2 feet above sea level.
Neighbors also raised a fear that runoff during a major storm could present problems for the bird sanctuary across from the home.
In a discussion before the council, Sept. 5, zoning official Ray Poudrier said that while the ordinance did not require this level of elevation, it did not prohibit it. Poudrier told the council the home was within code, even though the higher elevations in the ordinance were intended for low-lying areas along the bay.
In response to initial complaints, the council, Sept. 5, put in place a moratorium on new zoning permits while the borough grappled with how to address the problem. At its Sept. 19 meeting, the council held a closed session; when it returned to the public meeting, it voted to lift the moratorium. Marcus Karavan, the borough solicitor, said such a moratorium was not consistent with New Jersey law.
Following the closed session, Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour said the council believes it has a way to deal with the issue without the need for a moratorium.
Davies-Dunhour said that following discussions with the borough’s zoning official and engineer, the council now felt that the ordinance did provide sufficient flexibility for the zoning official to resolve issues related to elevation within the existing zoning framework. That statement indicated more elasticity in the ordinance than Poudrier thought he had when he addressed the council two weeks prior.
The explanation for what led the governing body to believe the ordinance had greater flexibility than previously thought was not clearly stated. Karavan said officials had a “learning curve” with respect to the issue. He added that further review of the ordinance led to the belief that the zoning officer could now address problems on a case-by-case basis within the existing ordinance framework.
Attempts by borough resident Andrea Felkins to get more clarity were not successful. In each response to her questions, the same phrasing was used: The council now believes issues of what some called “excessive” elevation can be addressed within the existing zoning framework.
The solicitor did say that the borough was working on a change to the ordinance that would clarify the language.
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