Woodcrest and M&T granted variances in Millville

The Millville Board of Adjustments on July 28 granted variances to the developers of Woodcrest/The Meadows, for a reduced setback, and to M&T Bank for signage. Board members Andy Lyons and Tim Droney also voted to appoint Mark Reeve as the board’s chairman for the coming year.

The board was presented last week with a request from Woodcrest Acquisition LLC, also known as The Meadows, for a variance from the town’s current code, which requires a 40-foot minimum front-yard setback. They asked to be permitted to have a 30-foot front-yard setback instead.

Jim Wahler, attorney for Woodcrest, as well as 36 Builders Inc./InSight Homes, told the board that his clients were requesting the variance only for 14 undeveloped lots in the development. Rob Lisle, president of 36 Builders/Insight Homes, told the council that, at the time the opportunity came to purchase the lots in Woodcrest, they were rushed in their decision-making and didn’t realize the minimum setbacks were 40 feet.

“The person buying the note from WSFS was given a very short period of time to make a decision to buy the lots and make the settlement. We didn’t have enough information to make the decision. I just assumed that the setbacks would be the same as other similar neighborhoods we’re in, which are all 30 feet,” explained Lisle.

Lisle noted that he has an agreement with Woodcrest Acquisitions to purchase each lot individually once the construction on each lot’s home is complete.

“The goal would be to sell all those in the next year,” he added of the 14 homes yet to be constructed.

Lisle said that his company’s best-sellers are the Vandelay and Jerry models, which are currently also being sold in Fairway Village. But with the Town’s 40-foot setback requirement, only their less popular Abbott model would fit onto the lots. That, he said, could bring down the property values, as the Abbot is the least expensive home offered and owners would not be able to later add on to their homes.

He added that, of the last 80 homes sold by his company, only two were the Abbott model.

Wahler noted that InSight plans to pay for a new topcoat for the road and is currently paying for the grass to be cut.

“He’s taken an area that was overgrown and an eyesore and is going to turn it into a nice little community,” Wahler said.

Reeves asked whether or not the company could re-design or alter the current design in order for the homes to fit within the Town’s setback requirements.

Lisle responded that, yes, it would be possible, however it would slow the process down by at least 45 days and, as they use panelized construction, it could cost up to $10,000 additional per house. The company would also have to create new literature for just those 14 lots and would not have a model home for people to tour, he said.

“He’ll be competing against himself in other developments and other contractors,” added Wahler. “I think there is some precedent.”

Speaking to the requirements for being granted a variance, Lyons said, “An exceptional practical difficulty to me is understandable, because they’ve already made financial commitments to the community. They’ve already made improvements to the community, so their intentions to make substantial improvements to that area, and since I saw no objection, the up side is one that would benefit the town rather than do it harm.”

“I don’t think the desired changes will affect the surrounding properties that much. I am having trouble seeing the exceptional practical difficulty,” said Reeve, “but it’s not adversely affecting the described properties.”

The 30-foot setback variance was approved with a vote of 3-0.

Gary Brent, representing Gable Signs and M&T Bank, presented the bank’s request for a variance from the current code regarding commercial signage, to allow for additional square-footage to replace existing signs.

As the code reads, “Each commercial use may have one lighted or unlighted sign displaying the name of the store or the use, not exceeding area equivalent to 5 percent of the building or 100 square feet; whichever is smaller. Where the building(s) is designed for rear or side entrances, one unlighted sign may be attached flat against the building at the rear and side entrances, each sign not to exceed an area equivalent to half that of the sign on the front of the building.”

Code & Building Administrator Eric Evans said that he had been out to the former Wilmington Trust site in the Millville Town Center to get the approximate measurements of the current signage.

The space currently allotted for front signage for the building, under the latest code, is 48.68 square feet. The current signage is 65.33 square feet, he said, and the proposed new signage is 25.48 square feet. Signage in the rear of the building, by current code, should not exceed 24.34 square feet but is currently 38.52 square feet, and the proposed signage there measures 33.56 square feet.

Brent added that the existing monument signs will be removed from the property, with roughly 60 square feet of additional signage not being replaced. He also compared the proposed signage package measurements to the neighboring Wells Fargo bank, which is similar in building size, stating that their total signage is 133.67 square feet, which is more than the total 126.42 square feet proposed for M&T’s replacement signage at the former Wilmington Trust.

“It’s a bank that has to compete in a neighborhood with other banks,” said Brent, regarding the request. (There are, in fact, six free-standing banks within a mile of the site.) He added that the signs are prefabricated and are ready to be installed in August.

The property was previously zoned C-1 commercial. However, when the new zoning code was approved in 2007, the center became non-conforming, with freestanding signs no longer permitted.

When the new Millville Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2010, the property was rezoned to C-2 commercial and, if an existing business requests to change 50 percent or more of their current signage, it falls under the new regulations for the C-2 zoning code.

“We would be thankful if the board would not to take a position that this bank has to be conforming when none of the others are,” said Brent.

“We are dealing with a particularly interesting situation because of the way it was approved originally,” noted Reeve.

“I would make a motion to grant this variance specifically to the signs requested in this variance and not to any others on the property,” said Lyons. “My reasoning for that is the lack of negative impact, the fact that they’re reducing signage and, also, I would believe there would be a certain amount of hardship by having one bank and in a series of three banks right in a row and having to take out signage that would give other banks an unfair advantage.”

Droney and Reeve agreed, and the variance request was approved with a 3-0 vote.