To the Editor of the Highland Park Planet:
Thank you to Heather Wilkerson (the writer) and Pam Hersh (the editor) at the Highland Park Planet for the June 2nd article about the proposed Highland Park ordinance number 15-1890, that introduces “Floor Area Ratio (FAR)” as a limit for allowable building size relative to lot size for residential construction.
I would like to commend the Planning Board of Highland Park for voting unanimously at their July 9th meeting to reject the ordinance. However, the Planning Board’s vote is only a recommendation to the Borough Council. The Borough Council has scheduled this ordinance for second reading and possible adoption at their August 11th meeting.
I strongly urge the Borough Council to reject the proposed ordinance in its entirety and send the Residential Reconstruction Ordinance Revision Group back to the drawing board, with the sole task of revising the ordinance to provide clarity and consistency, rather than drastically restricting the ability of homeowners to improve their homes.
As currently proposed, the FAR ordinance will not allow HP residents to stay in their homes as their families grow, and will negatively impact the value of real property in Highland Park going forward. I am the proud owner of a 1906 home in the Livingston Manor Historic District, which still retains its original footprint. I love our home’s historic charm, but at just over 1000 sq ft, it is rapidly becoming too small for our growing family. Like many families, we are faced with the choice of adding on or trading up.
Under existing zoning rules, one would be allowed to build up to 2.5 stories to with a footprint up to 30 percent of a standard 50 by 100 lot, for a maximum of 3,750 sq ft. However, under the proposed FAR limit, homeowners on that size lot would have to stay below 40 percent of the lot size, or 2,000 sq ft. That is a 47 percent reduction in the size of any potential renovated home. For comparison in 2013, the average new construction home in the US was 2,598 sq ft. Not only that, the 2,000 sq ft limit would include spaces which are not traditionally included in square footage, like an open front porch or detached garage. If Highland Park limits what residents can do to improve their properties, families will be forced to move as their families grow and their properties will be worth less to potential buyers because the restricted usage.
The ordinance provides a mechanism for exceptions to FAR limits, but it is impossibly demanding. A homeowner would have to gain access to their neighbor’s homes on the nearby blocks and hire a licensed professional engineer or architect to take precise interior measurements necessary to calculate FAR. If the homeowner can demonstrate that more than 50 percent of their neighbors exceed the FAR limit, the homeowner would be granted an exception. However when asked how the proposed floor area ratios compare to existing homes, the Borough Planner admitted he cannot get access to private residences in order to calculate FAR. If the Borough Planner can’t do it, how can we expect individual homeowners to do it?
There are serious times when the property rights of individual homeowners need to be limited for the greater good. This circumstance is NOT one of those times. Again, I strongly urge the Borough Council to reject ordinance number 15-1890 in its entirety.
Hava Bresler Freidenreich