By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – After being denied site plan approvals twice and a lawsuit filed in Superior Court, a developer was granted approvals to build a mixed-use development at the site of a former Chinese restaurant.
SAJ Associates, LLC filed a lawsuit in July after the board denied the applicant’s second request for site plan approval to build commercial spaces on the first floor and four, two-story residential units above at the property located at 7800 Ventnor Ave. on the corner of Douglas and Ventnor avenues.
Following an executive session, Thursday, Aug. 31, the Planning Board agreed to a negotiated settlement, which is better than the first submission, officials said.
Attorney Christopher M. Baylinson, who represents SAJ, said in the lawsuit that the board’s denial of a “by right” site plan presented in March that required no variances was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
It was the second time SAJ submitted a development application for review by the board.
In February, the developer was denied the variances needed to develop the property, which is located in the city’s Central Business District, with 2,800 square feet of commercial space with four, four-bedroom units above. The developer needed a C variance for exceeding the building height by 3.4 feet, and a parking variance for four commercial parking spaces when 14 is required.
Board members voted 6-1 to deny the site plans presented at both meetings.
The lawsuit prompted the city, board and applicant to negotiate a settlement that garnered unanimous approval from the board on Aug. 31.
The negotiated settlement calls for the plan to include changes to reconfigure the layout of residential units to flats instead of stacked townhouses, and increasing the commercial space on the ground level back to 2,880 square feet. A major concession was reducing the number of bedrooms from four to three in each unit.
Variances were granted for the number of parking spaces – four for the commercial space and nine for the residences, including one that is ADA compliant. The board also granted a variance for the height of the building, which will be 3.2 feet higher than required by ordinance.
In the first application, Baylinson said the board’s rejection of the requested parking variance was not in line with its previous approvals of eight commercial properties that deviated from the required number of parking spaces.
SAJ revised its original plan and in March resubmitted a by right application with no variances showing the same mixed-use development with only 1,800 square feet of commercial space, which eliminated the need for a parking variance, and four units above. The need for a variance for building height was also eliminated in the revised plan.
At the second hearing in March, the board objected to the ratio of commercial space versus the residential space above. Despite the applicant agreeing to reduce the number of bedrooms in each unit to three, the board again voted 6-1 to deny the site plan approval. In the decision issued after the second hearing, Planning Board attorney Elias T. Manos noted that although the application was variance-free, it did not comply with the city’s zoning ordinance because it was predominantly residential with commercial spaces as a secondary use.
The lawsuit prompted the parties to negotiate over a month-long period to a plan that board members agreed was better than the first plan presented.
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