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'Megamansions' Continue to be Targeted, But Homeowners Eye Looser Restraints

Matthew Hersh

After hearing concerns from residents who worried that placing stringent caps on housing size in various Borough zoning districts would negatively impact property value, municipal planners have revisited an ordinance devised to contain the continued presence of so-called "Megamansions."

The Regional Planning Board's Zoning Amendment Review Committee (ZARC) re-examined an ordinance that was first proposed by Princeton Borough Council and that would attempt to oversee homes being torn down to make way for larger structures that many residents feel are out of character with the surrounding neighborhoods.

When the full Planning Board referred the ordinance back to ZARC in mid-May, many residents of the Borough's R-1 zoning district in the Western section said that residents there should be trusted to build within the character of their neighborhood and that building caps would impose restrictions that would eventually translate into lowered property values.

Members of ZARC also explored maximum allowances in floor area ratio (FAR)‹the relationship of the house to lot size.

But at their discussion last Thursday, ZARC members agreed to a "cap plus" that would allow for more proportionate square-footage allowance for homes already impacted by caps. Before returning to the Planning Board as scheduled. however, the ordinance must re-appear before ZARC so that members can reach consensus on all four residential zoning districts.

Suggestions to completely get rid of the FAR, however, were met with some concern. Buildings need a cap, said Borough Zoning Officer Frank Slimak, because they effectively control the megamansion. "Without the cap, you may not be happy with just the FAR."

For a block of uniform lots and houses without the cap, said Alan Porter, Planning Board attorney, there is nothing to stop people from buying two lots and building a house double the size of the typical houses on that block.

"Part of what this ordinance is attempting to do is to control Œcontext sensitive zoning'," Mr. Porter said.

Wendy Benchley, a member of the planning board and Borough Council, said certain provisions could be made for those owning double lots.

However, residents in attendance largely endorsed the idea of removing a cap, saying that FAR restrictions were sufficient to control housing out of character with neighborhoods.

Fernando Guerrero, a Hodge Road resident, said that if ZARC were to move forward with the ordinance, it should focus on the proportionality with the FAR and the height-to-setback ratios, but to focus less on caps.

Lynnette Hull of Linden Lane agreed. "Taking away the right to build is taking away people's investment," she said, expressing concern about a "significant" decrease in property value.

Members of ZARC have not yet been able to schedule a new hearing for the ordinance. After appearing before ZARC, it will go before the planning board, which will determine whether it should go back to Borough Council for consideration.

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