The Highland Park Planning Board, at its Thursday, July 7, 7:30 p.m. meeting will consider the adoption of an ordinance that introduces “Floor Area Ratio (FAR)” as a defining factor for allowable building size in relation to lot size for residential construction. The new ordinance essentially would have the effect of reducing the bulk of a residential structure relative to the size of the lot.
FAR is the total building area divided by total lot area. Current zoning, identifies an allowable 2.5 story home with a footprint of 1,500 square feet allowed on a 4,999 square foot lot, or a structure whose total building area is 75 percent of the lot area, equivalent to an FAR of .75.
In the proposed ordinance, the FAR for the residential district known as the “RA” zone is .50 on a lot size of 4,999 square feet. Floor Area Ratio is a common factor used in planning and zoning throughout the state. The ratios proposed are in keeping with Middlesex County towns, such as Westfield and Plainsboro.
Mr. Philip George is the Highland Park Town Council Member, who is the liaison to the Highland Park Residential Reconstruction Ordinance Revision Group that is proposing the ordinance. He noted that the reason for pursuing such an ordinance is because of the aging housing stock and the intent to accommodate renovations and replacements while maintaining the character of Highland Park communities and neighborhoods. “The FAR formula is scalable and eliminates the one size fits all approach to zoning,” Mr. George said.
To this end, the adoption of “Ordinance 15” proposes significant changes to the Highland Park Land Use Ordinance Chapter 230 that defines allowable building size and bulk. The current zoning ordinance limits the footprint of a single-family home in an RA district on a 4,999 square foot lot to 1,500 square feet. An owner is then permitted to construct a 2.5 story home to a maximum of 3,750 square feet. This limited square footage does not include breezeways, open porches or decks that may be added as long as the amount of impervious surface does not exceed that which is allowable.
In contrast, under the proposed ordinance, a single-family home in the RA district on a 4,999 square foot lot, while still allowing up to 1,500 square foot for building footprint and up to 2.5 stories, at an FAR of .50 limits the total building area to 2,500 square feet. Breezeways, open porches, garages, carports and decks would be included in the calculation of building area under the new ordinance. These amenities could not be added beyond the maximum allowable building area of 2,500 square feet. The impact of the proposed ordinance increases with lot size.
The proposed ordinance also includes refinements to the definition of basement and cellar space as well as attic space to more clearly define what constitutes a habitable attic or basement/ cellar and when these areas must be calculated as part of the building are for purposes of FAR. Finally, the proposed ordinance reduces the allowable maximum building height from 35 feet to 32 feet. However the definition of “building height” is redefined and may mitigate the potential impact. The proposed ordinance does provide criteria under which an exception to the new FAR regulations may be made.