Union City Zoning Board approves amended 4-story plan for 123 20th Street

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The Union City Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a four-story, two-family plan for 123 20th Street, despite several neighbors voicing staunch opposition to the proposal during Thursday’s meeting at the library inside Union City High School.

The application that was initially before the board called for the demolition of a vacant single family home in order to build a structure that includes ground floor parking, a three-bedroom duplex unit on the second and third floors, and a two-bedroom unit on the fourth floor.

Property owners Denise and Baruch Gadot were seeking bulk c variances related to minimum lot area and lot depth coverage and Manny Pereiras, their architect for the project, did most of the speaking on their behalves.

” … One of the things I wanted to really look at is if it fit in [the neighborhood] height wise,” Pereira told the board, noting that there are four-story buildings located to the east and the west of the property in question.

Still, several neighbors in attendance were not on board with the application and didn’t seem to care if the four stories were permitted by the city’s Master Plan or not.

” … We’re not approving this because of what other buildings are there, we’re approving this because it’s permitted in the zone,” Pereiras said during a back and forth with resident May Lane.

“Yeah, and I opened by saying that we need to learn from mistakes. When we look at mistakes, we need to say ‘oh my goodness, perhaps this should be the example of why this construction project should not proceed because it has a deleterious effect on the neighborhood,'” Lane exclaimed.

Pereiras again reiterated that the proposal for 123 20th Street conforms to all the zoning rules, while Lane stated that the opposition to this project has been staunch since September – back when a three-family building was in the works.

Another nearby resident, Sharon Stone, who shares a wall with the building that would be knocked down, said that she didn’t appreciate that the project would block the sunlight from coming into her garden in the back yard.

“It’s like putting a shroud on my house. I’m not suggesting that the Gadots don’t have a right to live here, but do I have to pay that great of a price – it is a great price,” she said.

The Gadots were present at the hearing and Denise took the podium to address some of the criticisms they were facing, getting emotional and fighting back tears at times.

“You need to understand that we are people too! We want to continue with our lives too! Our lives have been interrupted since September … and if you think this doesn’t take a toll on my health, you are wrong … I’m not legally homeless but I feel homeless.”

Denise Gadot also said that due to the project being held up since the last quarter of 2020, they have been staying at a family member’s home and will likely do so until the construction at 20th Street is complete.

After over two hours, a short recess was taken and upon returning, Pereira proposed three amendments to the project: removing a parapet from the front of the building, eliminating the bulkheads that bring the stairs up the roof, and reducing the height of the building in the rear yard by seven feet.

On rebuttal, a handful of residents still expressed disdain for the project, even with the changes in mind.

“Mrs. Gadot was very eloquent in talking about her husband, whose an architect and a member of the planning board, [but] she did neglect to say that he made a living as a developer – the president of a development company for about 20 years,” stated Tom Keoughan.

“And they do have about 16 addresses, if you look up on the internet, rapid fire over the past couple years – including two in Miami. I would imagine they might spend winters down there.”

He also pointed out that the three-family proposal was pulled back because they could not provide the required number of parking spaces, not because “of their graciousness.”

Ultimately, Board Chair Victor Grullon called for a vote on the amended plan after about two-and-a-half hours of discussion, which was approved unanimously (5-0).