Secaucus has updated certain specifications of its zoning code, in part intending to streamline things for homeowners.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli and the Secaucus Town Council have adopted an ordinance amending the zoning code regarding accessory structures, driveways, front and side yard setbacks and use, and non-conforming uses.
The council voted unanimously to do so at its May 10 meeting, after introducing it in March. Following the adoption of the ordinance, Town Administrator Gary Jeffas described the purpose of the ordinance in an interview with the Hudson Reporter.
Avoiding superfluous Zoning Board interactions
The ordinance is intended to prevent unnecessary matters from coming before the Zoning Board.
“A lot of time before the Zoning Board, a lot of recurring structures would be coming because they have a pre-existing condition that is an exception to the zoning ordinances,” Jeffas said.
Most of the pre-existing conditions did not need to be rectified by the Zoning Board, Jeffas explained. The new ordinance seeks to clarify that for homeowners or those performing property renovations.
“So what this is doing is, the Zoning Officer looked at it, cleaning some of that up,” Jeffas said. “For example, if you’re going to put a dormer on your house and not increase the space, you don’t have to go before the Zoning Board because you’re not increasing the square footage of the flooring… If you have a deck and you’re going to replace it, you don’t have to go before the Zoning Board. Sometimes steps, the front stairs, exceed the setback but they are pre-existing… So we’re eliminating conditions were people often wind up before the Zoning Board where pre-existing conditions force them to do so… So it’s just making it streamlined, so they don’t have to appear before the board for minor changes to its property.”
New setback standards
Jeffas said that the ordinance encompassed a number of practical changes, from property setbacks from the street, to the grading of driveways.
“This deals with front yard setbacks,” Jeffas told the Hudson Reporter. “It also dealt with flood areas being required not to have depressed driveways, because a lot of those houses get flooded when there’s heavy rains.”
According to the ordinance, the building line is defined as the line “parallel to the street right-of-way line touching that part of a structure or an enclosed portico/porch closest to the street,” as opposed to just the closest part of a building to the street.
Similarly, the ordinance defines a front yard as “extending the full width of the lot along the front line and extending in depth from the lot line to the nearest point of the permitted principal or accessory building on the lot. The front stairs are excluded.
Per the ordinance, no building shall be constructed closer to the front property line than 20 feet, measured from the foundation walls of the principal structure or an enclosed portico and or porch and the front property line. For structures located in a flood zone, no building shall be constructed closer to the front property line than 20 feet from the foundation of the principal structure.
A minimum five-foot lot line setback is now required for new air conditioning equipment, heat pump units, pool filters or other equipment that serves one- and two- family dwellings. No such equipment can be installed in the front yard of a structure. Existing non-conforming air conditioning equipment, heat pump units, pool filters or other equipment may be replaced in same location and same size.
Depressed driveways and non-conforming lots
The ordinance places a ban on new sunken or depressed driveways or garages. It states that existing sunken, depressed driveways and garage may be removed or filled in without a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing at the property owner’s request upon the provision of proof of flooding conditions.
Also on the topic of driveways, the ordinance states that all single- and two-family dwellings shall be limited to a maximum of one driveway curb cut per property. Driveways directly adjacent to the main entrance walkway should provide delineation buffer or either a raised curb or landscaping buffer along two- thirds of the driveway and or walkway length. Proposed design shall be approved by the Zoning Official.
“Also in this ordinance is, if you have a sloped driveway, that often causes flooding, which we’ve had many times on heavy rains,” Jeffas said. “You can come before the construction department so you can fill them in so they’re level to reduce flooding. And you don’t have to go before the Zoning Board for a request for that because it’s alleviating a flooding condition, making it easier for the homeowners to handle that.”
In terms of non-conforming uses, the ordinance states that they will not be extended, expanded, enlarged or increased in density or otherwise altered so as to increase the degree of non-conformity. However, there are some exceptions permitted including: a dormer may be constructed from a sloping roof provided that the existing floor space is not increased, the existing roof ridge remains the same, and the expansion will not be inconsistent with any other section of the zoning code; a deck may be constructed on a lot provided that it does not violate any side, front, or rear yard requirements, or open space requirements, and that it will not be inconsistent with the zoning code.
Additionally, when it comes to non-conforming uses, other exceptions permitted include: existing non-conforming decks can be replaced in the same position; and existing non-conforming steps leading to the principal structure may be replaced in same location and same size.
According to the ordinance, some of the other new changes include: no accessory structure shall be used for human habitation; dormers are now only considered such if they contain a window; an accessory structure for a residential swimming pool may only be erected on the same lot as the principal structure and shall not exceed 50 square feet in floor area and 10 feet in height.
The town previously updated regulations for replacement materials for sidewalks, driveway openings, and curbing and curb cuts. Another ordinance adopted over the past few months saw the town continue the trend of polishing up zoning and property regulations by enacting property maintenance responsibilities relating to bamboo.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.