After a groundswell of concern in the Township about the impact, both aesthetically and physically, of large homes taking the place of smaller homes on large lots, Township Committee indicated Monday night that it could move toward re-examining the municipal zoning codes to stem so-called "McMansions."
The discussion, which was not a set agenda item, followed weeks of intense debate sparked by a not yet completed 6,000 square-foot home on a one-and-three-quarter-acre lot on North Littlebrook Drive. A physical departure from the more modest homes in that area, the house has raised strong concerns including issues with neighborhood character, a perceived increase in stormwater runoff, not to mention a potential market gouge. The home is listed for $2.5 million.
And while municipal-appointed groups such as the Princeton Environmental Commission have made 73 North Littlebrook the poster child of the Township's housing problems, the issue is a sensitive one for the governing body, and for property owners in general.
The house on North Littlebrook, a product of KP Burke Builders, LLC, is within the zoning code and fully conforms to current Township standards. If the Township moves to reinvigorate its zoning code to place limitations on what a property owner can and cannot build, there is likely to be an equally powerful groundswell from residents under the aegis of the preservation of property rights.
This is why, for now, it is likely that Township Committee will walk a fine line, though that doesn't mean that the issue won't be explored.
"I think from the experience the neighbors have had with the properties on Littlebrook, that it's obvious the zoning regulations have to be looked at again," said Edwin Schmierer, Township attorney, after a group of Littlebrook residents approached Committee during a public session to voice concerns. Jim Moorhead, a resident of nearby Clover Lane, went so far as to call the North Littlebrook home a "cancer," adding that it is "far too large" for what he described as a low-lying area. He also remarked on the house's elevated appearance, due to the installation of landfill to deter flooding.
Mr. Schmierer advised Committee that the concerns raised were worth looking into: "We have to come up with a better way to regulate the bulk, the size, and the mass of these rebuilds."
Township Committee attempted to do just that earlier this year when it placed some restrictions on the square-footage of impervious surfacing on single-family lots in an effort to help prevent -increased flooding. Even then, the surface coverage caps, mandated in response to an increasing number of driveways and home additions being built, proved alarming for some residents who worried that caps would negatively impact property values.
Mr. Schmierer said that while those measures have some regulatory impact where stormwater issues are involved, "you're going to see this happen more and more throughout the town." He added that the Township should consult with the Planning, Zoning, and Engineering departments to figure out what is appropriate for a lot.
"The regulations need to be looked at from the bottom up, and I think we should start that tomorrow," he said.
Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand agreed that the Township should move forward, albeit guardedly, with re-examining the zoning: "We're going to have to go back to the drawing board, but we still have to remember that people have property rights."
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