A proposal to develop the lower third of the Orange Lawn Tennis Club as 20 units of town house development is moving forward after another round of meetings with stakeholders and a meeting of the South Orange Planning Board.
On Monday, June 6, the South Orange Planning Board approved the latest ordinance for the redevelopment plan for the site — a plan that involves the club selling off the lower five acres to a developer that would build 20 units in 10 structures (down from 22 units in 11 structures); the ordinance also rezones the upper 11 acres of the property to a density of no greater than single family detached housing.
The Planning Board found the redevelopment plan to be “consistent” with the South Orange Master Plan. Should the South Orange Board of Trustees now approve the redevelopment plan in an ordinance (the public hearing and vote is set for June 27), the developers of the five-acre parcel, BNE Real Estate, will still need to submit a site plan for review to the Planning Board.
Planning Board Chair Harold Colton-Max asked Village President Sheena Collum to outline differences between the current ordinance and the one formerly introduced and then tabled by the Board of Trustees.
Collum noted that, despite Orange Lawn’s ability to develop the site “as of right” at a higher density, neighbors wanted something “more consistent with the neighborhood and the surrounding properties.”
She said that the current proposal does just that.
Collum noted that the last ordnance had allowed town homes on the upper portion of the site; the current proposal does not.
In agreeing to be able to sell the upper two-thirds of the property and develop it only at the density of single family detached housing, Collum said that the club asked for accessory use of a bubble over four of the tennis courts at the center of the property. Collum stressed that the use of the bubble was being strictly limited — it could only be allowed during certain times of year (winter), at a certain height, during limited times of day, for proscribed uses (tennis, not parties) and at a specified sound levels (50 decibels).
The question of overflow parking that had agitated residences on Forest Road is also being addressed, Collum reported, with overflow parking now being moved to another area away from neighbors.
Collum noted that she, Village Attorney Steve Rother, Village Planner Phil Abramson and Village Administrator Barry Lewis had all met with neighbors regarding the overflow parking and did a “walk through … so as to minimize the impact on Forest Road.”
“No one wants headlights,” said Collum referencing neighbors complaints that headlights would shine into their homes from overflow parking. “I believe we have found sufficient parking on site that doesn’t face the homes,” said Collum.
Collum said that preserving the historic club “that has been for a very long time” was also important to the community. Representatives of Orange Lawn have argued that the sale and development of the lower portion of the club is necessary to maintain the club financially.
Regarding the zoning, Collum said, “We’re returning it back to what it was and what it was intended to be prior to 1992.” The upper 11 acres will be zoned as RA-100, at a density of 4.4 units per acre.
“Our next step is going back for another community meeting … with final design and concept drawings,” said Collum, who added that that town had made a “mea culpa” to neighbors, saying “we can do better than what we’re doing” after previous iterations of the plan.
During public comments, a number of neighbors expressed concerns about access roads. Collum promised to follow up on their concerns and address them in the community meeting with neighbors. Neighbor Joan Yuel lamented that neighbors were often put in the position to deal with parking violations: “Residents shouldn’t feel that we are the enforcers; that’s not our job.”
Collum also noted that this process showed how strained the relationship is between OLTC and the neighbors; as a result, she said, Orange Lawn has now designated a neighborhood relations point person.
Planning Board member Michael Miller asked if the Village could get the right of first refusal if the club sells the remainder of the property. Collum responded, “Mr. Miller, I think that is a great suggestion, and we will have that in our redeveloper’s agreement.” The Village President did note, however, that purchasing the property for open space was “a tremendous losing proposition from an economic standpoint” and that “the intensity of use would probably go up because it would need to serve the entire community.”
Neighbors who spoke later at the meeting said they supported the purchase of the 11 acres of the property by the Village even if it meant an more intense use, such as hosting soccer leagues.
One neighbor questioned how the Orange Law redevelopment plan could be consistent with the Master Plan if the town’s open space master plan called for using the site as open space.
Village Planner Phil Abramson said that the Open Space Master Plan recommended the site as open space, but that that recommendation was “not reflected” in the Master Plan.
“All other plans have this as PRCB … to protect the Village’s plan for the affordable housing requirement,” said Abramson, who noted further that the Master Plan is “comprised of a series of elements and they are not created equal. The land use element and housing plan are paramount…. Parks and open space and recycling are more ancillary…. If there are competing recommendations, the land use element always trumps elements that are not part of the land use element.”
After the Planning Board unanimously found the redevelopment plan to be consistent with Master Plan, Collum noted, “We will have another neighborhood meeting with conceptual plans and address concerns about overflow parking. Once we have those done, stay tuned, we will reconvene again so you are not surprised by a vote that is happening in the future.”
The Board of Trustees is scheduled to hear and vote on the ordinance on June 27 at SOPAC.