The Orange Plan and Zoning Commission denied an application from Roeco, a New York developer looking to build a four- to five-story mixed use plaza with stores, offices and 119 apartments at its January 19 meeting.
The Commission held a public hearing on a petition to amend the Orange zoning regulations and revisions to the Orange parking regulations. There was an associated petition to amend the town zoning map to change the property at 35 Old Tavern Rd. – now the Firelite Shopping Center – from a local shopping center district to a town center district. After a two hour discussion, P&Z Commission Chair Beau Clark said, “When I look at the regulation, the first thing that struck me is that this would be an allowed use as opposed to a special use where we would have that additional layer of discretion.”
Clark said, “This regulation is not in the best interest in the town of Orange and, more importantly, is not consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development that we just adopted. I’ve never seen an applicant where the regulation would allow them to build 19 units per acre and they only want to build 18, or that they are allowed to build five stories, but they only want to build four. I question the motive behind that part of it.
“I cannot see a 30,000 square foot retail space, plus the office space that’s there, combined with 119—or possibly more—apartment buildings lessening the traffic, or having no impact on traffic. It’s just not believable. I don’t think the idea is right for the town of Orange. I think the idea is sound; however I don’t feel that this proposal is what we envisioned,” he said.
Mitch Goldblatt, though not against a mixed use development, said his vision of that is a single story shopping center with a single story apartment above it. He, along with about a dozen others, spoke during the public hearing. “I was shocked to see a four- to five-story building here. This looks more like a city district than a town district. What you’re looking at is way out of proportion for the area that we’re talking about. To give us the impression that people are going to live here, work here and have less reliance on the automobile is preposterous. It’s the toughest intersection around. It’s not going to get better by adding all of this,” Goldblatt said.
Roeco originally presented its plan to the commission in December and was asked to conduct a traffic study and come back to the commission in January. Attorneys for the developer said the study showed that there would be little to no impact on traffic in the immediate area of the plaza.
Cathy Hatrick, a Racebrook Road resident, finds it very difficult during peak hours to get out of her driveway. “It’s preposterous to tell me that this would not impact traffic. To think about looking out my back window and seeing a four story building is pretty troubling for me. I don’t feel very good about it.”
Peter Newman, speaking for the developer, said, “This site is the introduction to your town by people coming from many different destinations. Firelite plaza holds a special place in my memory—a time when shopping was done in a different fashion, there was no such thing as online shopping and the world was moving at a slower pace. There’s a certain charm to that site. We think that what we’re proposing is a way to revitalize and bring some of the charm back to the town.”
Members of the commission failed to see the charm that the developer envisioned and unanimously denied the request to change the regulation. “Looking at our current regulations, the first thing that is prohibited in that zone is dwellings, so we’re really being asked to make a vast change. We’d be going from no dwellings in a zone to a high density use,” said commissioner Oscar Parente.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent