Zoning appeals ahead?

The city copes with zoning regulations aimed at increasing storm water management

The Bayonne Zoning Board met virtually on March 15.
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The Bayonne Zoning Board met virtually on March 15.

The Bayonne Zoning Board has rejected an appeal of the Zoning Officer’s decision involving the new zoning ordinance changes to help storm water management.

Special redevelopment counsel Joe DeMarco presented the changes to the zoning regulations to the board at its January meeting. In December, the changes were referred to as proposals instead of something that had already been implemented.

Limiting lot coverage

The changes further limit the maximum amount of lot coverage that can be built on. Zoning districts are now limited to 70 percent maximum lot coverage, except for industrial districts. Industrial districts are restricted to 80 percent maximum lot coverage.

The board can grant variances to allow for more lot coverage if there are absorbent or pervious surfaces or other means to limit storm water runoff.  The goal is to increase pervious surfaces, including green infrastructure or water absorbent pavement, to take in stormwater and prevent flooding and the spillage of untreated water into waterways, known as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).

Impervious surfaces divert water from the ground where it naturally would go to filter into surrounding waterways and into underground sewers. With maximum lot coverage decreasing for new construction, there will be more pervious surfaces to absorb storm water in hopes of curtailing runoff and preventing CSOs.

Home renovations

Resident Bob Torres was looking to renovate the front of his property, a two family home at 17 West 53rd Street. He has lived in the house for 15 years and said the property needed improvements to keep his insurance coverage.

Improvements include renovating the front stairs, railings and retaining wall. Additional renovations include adding a curb cut to his driveway so that people do not park in front of it and the planting of a tree in the front.

Torres said due to the unsafe stairs, he was worried about potential injuries: “My tenants might get hurt in the future because of this bad condition.”

Torres’s request was rejected because his plans do not meet the standards set in the zoning changes. He appealed the Zoning Officer’s decision to reject his application for a permit for the renovations.

‘After the fact’ 

Andrew Ciok, attorney for Torres, said that the plan was submitted for permit prior to the zoning changes. The timeline is as follows: Torres received the letter from his insurance company in September of 2020, he then submitted an application to the board and board professionals with the plans for the renovations in October. The zoning changes occurred following city council approval in November.

“We are being forced to comply with something after the fact,” Ciok said.

City Engineer Rob Russo said that the denial stemmed from an increase in impervious surfaces with the construction. A small landscape area will be replaced by concrete, thus the violation of the new regulations.

Ciok said it was a 60-square-foot area that used to have a tree but is now just gravel. According to the board, Torres could add a small planter area there instead of concrete and would not be in violation of the new regulations. Torres could also construct the project with pervious pavers, porous concrete or asphalt.

Ciok and Torres reiterated their argument that the issue was the retroactive application of zoning regulations to his application which met the old standards.

Board deliberations 

“Mr. Torres is actually the victim of bad timing,” Board Chairman Mark Urban said, noting that improvements Torres wants to make are very positive improvements to the property but do not meet the new zoning regulations.

The board voted to reject Torres’s appeal, agreeing with the Zoning Officer’s decision. Torres can redesign it with fewer impervious surfaces and resubmit plans to the board. Members of the zoning board predicted that this may be the first of many appeals regarding the matter.

“Unfortunately, I think that this will not be the last time this board addresses violations of what used to be the old standard as it relates to impervious coverage and the new standards right now,” Commissioner Clifford Adams said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.