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'McMansion' Restrictions Examined As Committee Looks to Borough Lots

Matthew Hersh

With an eye toward creating restrictions on home sizes in Princeton Borough and an overall "preservation" of neighborhood character, planning officials last week acted on a Borough proposal that provides standards for residential buildings.

Borough Council proposed a year ago an ordinance that would regulate the practice of "tear down and rebuild" on lots that, some feel, are too small to contain the houses that have been built.

In light of that proposal, the Zoning Amendment Review Committee of the Regional Planning Board put forth recommendations that attempt to cap building sizes, increase side yards, and insure front yard setbacks.

"Looking at the existing Borough standards, there really aren't a lot of controls on residential development," Planning Director Lee Solow said last Thursday. As such, the planning office came up with "very typical zoning regulations to control the height, mass, and bulk of homes being constructed.

What followed were recommendations for residential housing in all four of the Borough's residential zones. The maximum house size in those zones range from 5,400 square feet in the R-3 and R-4 zones, or the Jefferson Road and "tree streets" section of the Borough, to 15,000 square feet in the R-1, the zoning district that includes Library Place, Hodge Road, and Cleveland Lane.

"Just as we want to preserve the character of the neighborhood from homes that are too large, we didn't want to impose on folks who felt their homes were too small," Mr. Solow said.

Under the recommendations put forth Thursday, home size limitations across the Borough were attuned to each other to be more consistent and uniform, trimming the spread between 3,000 and 7,000 square feet.

However, in neighborhoods like the R-1, where maximum house size potential is 15,000 square feet, only 6 percent of the homes in that area are larger than 7,000 square feet – the cap at which the planning office felt the cutoff should be.

As it turns out, most houses in the Borough fall already within Mr. Solow's recommendations, but the aim was to preclude the building of "McMansions," cookie-cutter homes that are often not in keeping with the neighborhoods.

But that said, not all residents were pleased with the recommendations to limit house size.

Hodge Road resident Fernando Guerrero said he feared that more rigid developmental standards would impede on the rights of property owners.

"The concern went from 'what does this do to our neighborhood?' to 'what does this do to our community?'," he said, alluding to last year's Borough budget crisis.

"How do these municipalities maintain their increase in revenues?" he asked. "One of the things that we fear the most is that by virtue of taking away the development rights that property owners have, you're taking away probably one of the most meaningful sources of incremental revenue – because nobody's making any more land over there."

Mr. Guerrero also said that limitations were not necessary because most property owners were not tearing their homes down to build larger homes.

The recommendations will next go to the Planning Board at its May 5 session. If at that meeting the board chooses to accept the recommendations, it would instruct the Borough to create an ordinance accordingly.

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