With a reluctance that has become a recurring theme in its acceptance of the Landmark proposal to construct 165 housing units on Daly Field in Radburn, the Fair Lawn Planning Board gave a final nod of approval to the developer’s revised plan Monday night.
Throughout the process, the board had been restricted in the issues on which it could judge the proposal. In a builder’s remedy suit, Landmark successfully argued in court that the development, 20 percent of which consists of affordable housing units, would help Fair Lawn meet its state affordable housing requirements.
Opponents of the development, however, argued that Landmark had not integrated the affordable units “to the extent feasible,” as required by ordinance. In its November approval of the project, the board required among its conditions that a revised plan be submitted that integrated the 33 affordable units, originally clustered in two buildings at the back of the lot, more fully into the plan.
“Notwithstanding all the reasons we gave why we didn’t think it was appropriate, we went back to the drawing board and found a way to do this,” Ron Shimanowitz, the developer’s attorney, told the board as Landmark presented its plan Monday night.
The revised plan moves 9 units from the back of the lot into a building along Plaza Road, relocating five of the market rate units in their place. Experts associated with the developer testified that the revisions did not substantially change the traffic issues that the board has previously considered.
“We still have the same number of units,” Landmark’s traffic engineer Eric Keller testified. “There is no material change by moving the affordable units to Plaza Road.”
“It’s my belief that it’s pretty apparent that the integration, architecturally, has happened pretty smoothly,” added architect Robert Larsen. “There is not a significant difference in the look of the building.”
No new variances are needed for the revised plan, leaving nothing within the planning board’s jurisdiction other than the murky question of whether the developer had integrated the affordable units to the “extent feasible” required by ordinance. Opponents of the project asserted that Landmark had not, pointing out that 24 of the 33 affordable units still remained at the back of the lot.
“By submitting its new plan, Landmark has proven that it is absolutely feasible to integrate the affordable units into the balance of the development,” Joel Rosen, attorney for the grassroots citizens group Neighbors to Save Daly Field, said in a statement. “However...they have still left over 75 percent of those units along the railroad tracks, without any legal justification for doing so.”
The integration of affordable units has been a sticking point for opponents, they say, because Landmark won consideration for its proposal by demonstrating that it would help Fair Lawn comply with affordable housing laws.
“They started the builder’s remedy lawsuit against this borough in order to assist the borough in meeting its affordable housing requirement. Let them do it in accordance with the ordinance,” Rosen said.
But the board did not push further on what all agreed is a subjective standard, and granted approval to what board member Larry Metzger called “the most difficult application that’s ever come before the board.”
“I would have to say they’ve gone about as far as they could with everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “They’ve made the effort. I’m not thrilled with this but...I would have to vote yes because it seems this is as far as they will go.”
Other board members echoed his ambivalence, noting that the board had succeeded in attaching several conditions to the project as well as reducing the size of the initial proposal from 200 units to 165. But board members agreed that they had already pushed as far as they legally could.
Chairman Brent Pohlman said that with the vague standard for integration, denial by the board on such a basis would likely have been overturned in court after costly litigation. “I do not think that we can make the taxpayers of Fair Lawn be guinea pigs in determining what that standard is,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski, who sits on the board, compared its near year-long undertaking on the development to making lemonade, not from lemons, but from grapefruit—amending the old analogy to illustrate the board’s limited legal options in making a project many of them had opposed palatable.
“I think the applicant has gone as far as we’ve asked the applicant to go on this,” he said. “It’s far from lemonade. But let’s face it, this whole project is far from lemonade.”
“I support it knowing that it is impossible to make lemonade out of grapefruits.”