Planet Princeton

Proposed zoning ordinance revision will encourage teardowns in Princeton

To the Editor:

A proposed revision to the zoning ordinance to be considered by Princeton Council at its Monday, November 19 meeting will clear the way for redevelopment of undersized lots without zoning board review of the impact of the proposed development on the visual environment of the neighborhood or the value of neighborhood properties. It will also have the unintended consequence of encouraging teardowns. We urge council to reject this change.

Our opposition to this zoning revision is not to suggest that the zoning board may use its powers to deny any development on lots made too small by subsequent zoning changes. Rather, the development of these lots should require presentation of plans for review by the board adequate to ensure that the size and layout of the proposed structure and its positioning on the lot will not adversely affect the character of the neighborhood or the intent and purpose of the zone plan. This review is currently required of the board under its variance powers, and these powers should not be relinquished.

Proponents of the revision argue that when a proposed new structure complies with all setback and other bulk requirements except for lot size, it should be automatically approved. Not so. The yard setbacks, height and other bulk requirements affecting the property were designed on the assumption that the affected lot was a larger lot. Development of the lot consistent with the streetscape and proportionate to other structures in the neighborhood, depending on the circumstances, may therefore require variances from other zoning requirements to ensure compatibility. Each development should be considered in relation to statutory variance criteria and not simply passed through. With specific reference to the structure as proposed, the board has the power to disapprove the variance because required criteria have not been met or approve it subject to revisions designed to minimize adverse impacts.

The ordinance as now revised by the planning board would also facilitate teardowns because the proposed waiver of variance review for undersized lots will not be confined to historically undeveloped lots, but could extend to lots an owner or buyer has made vacant by tearing down an existing structure. When the ordinance was introduced, council responded to this concern by limiting the waiver to vacant lots, but the planning board has now recommended undoing this limitation. Long established zoning doctrines, such as denial of variance relief when the claimed hardship is self-created, should not be discarded. Any teardown on an undersized lot should be subject to board review in advance and in tandem with analysis of building plans for the replacement structure.

Walter R. Bliss Jr., Moore Street
Virginia Kerr, Jeffferson Road

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