CAPE MAY — City Council is considering a request from the Planning Board to increase lot coverage along Cape May Avenue by 33 percent in what officials say could be a precursor to such an increase in other residential areas.
The increase, a jump from 30 percent to 40 percent impervious lot coverage, is proposed for only Cape May Avenue but Board Engineer Craig Hurless has been instructed to study the effects of such an increase in the entire R-1 Zoning District. The district ranges makes up a considerable portion of the eastern side of town, ranging from Cape May Harbor to the Admiral Estates development on the beachfront and includes other streets east of Madison Avenue.
“Some are saying, ‘Why just Cape May Avenue?’ That’s why we’re reviewing it for the whole town,” said Planning Board Chairman Bill Bezaire.
Two homeowners on Cape May Avenue approached the board about easing the standards and members voted unanimously to make the recommendation to council, which by law has the authority to make such a change.
“All the other zones have 40 (percent) to 55 percent lot coverage and every one has a smaller lot size requirement. The R-1 has the largest lot size, and you can use the smallest amount of it,” Bezaire said.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said he wants a thorough review and plenty of public comment before considering extending the higher lot coverage to other areas.
“People expect an environmentally sensitive town which prizes open space, air, light and greenery. We want to make sure we don’t ruin the environment we inherited,” Mahaney said.
Hurless is slated to be at council’s July 3 meeting to discuss the proposal. Hurless, in a phone interview Thursday, said Cape May Avenue is somewhat unique as it has a large open space island in the middle of the street and lots are typically conforming. The minimum lot size in the R-1 is 9,375 square feet.
The lot coverage law allows 30 percent of this to be covered with impervious surfaces, such as a house, pavement, garages and swimming pools. Since water does travel through pavers and decks, half of these surfaces are considered impervious coverage.
Vermont Avenue resident Shaine Meier asked council recently if the change could result in larger houses.
“Could this invite McMansions?” Meier asked.
Officials said it would allow decks, patios, swimming pools, sheds, garages and other additions but to get larger houses the floor area ratio, or FAR, which controls the living space on a lot, would have to be increased.
“It will not allow McMansions. It does not increase the floor-area ratio,” said Mahaney.
Towns typically use the FAR requirement to reduce the size of homes. On a 10,000 square foot lot, a FAR of 50 percent would allow 5,000 square feet of living space. By changing the FAR to 40 percent, only 4,000 square feet would be allowed.
Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman said the push for more lot coverage is mainly about adding swimming pools, which used to be counted as pervious coverage.
“From what I hear it’s about swimming pools, and we have a big one on Beach Avenue,” said Wichterman, referring to the Atlantic Ocean.
Even without the change residents can still exceed the lot coverage by getting a variance, but this is a time-consuming and often expensive proposition. Bezaire said in one case a resident had to get a variance to put up a garage.
“Why make people get variances? Elderly people move here and the lot coverage doesn’t allow them to do what they want to do,” Bezaire said.
The Cape May Avenue proposal impacts four blocks with about 16 lots per block or about 60 homes, Bezaire said.
While Cape May Avenue does have relatively large lots for the zone, other areas of the R-1 have smaller lots.
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