‘Blue house’ owner: I will demolish mansion if renovations are denied

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Andrew Scibor, who owns the blue Victorian home at 226 Main Street in Matawan, told the Independent this week he will “have no other choice” but to demolish the stately mansion if his application to convert the building into a multi-unit residence is not approved by municipal officials.

The Matawan Unified Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustment has set April 1 for a vote on Scibor’s request to convert the home into eight apartments.

Testimony on the application that has been filed by Scibor, of Main Street Associates, Matawan, continued on March 4. Scibor is seeking major site plan approval, bulk variances and a use variance to convert the 146-year-old home into apartments.

The granting of a use variance will require five “yes” votes from board members if a motion is made to approve the application.

Mayor Joseph Altomonte and Borough Councilwoman Deanna Gunn, who both sit on the board, and board members Kurtis Roinestead and Justin Dapolito have recused themselves from hearing the application. Their recusal will leave a maximum of eight voting board members to consider Scibor’s request.

Answering questions posed by attorney Dante M. Alfieri, who represents Scibor, engineer Richard Heuser described the rehabilitation that would take place inside the home and on the property if the application is approved.

The three-story residence has a garage and a small building on the parcel, Heuser said. A concrete driveway that leads to a parking area at the rear of the home is near the garage, he said.

Heuser said the width of the driveway, from Main Street to the rear of a bay window, would be increased by 15 feet. He said the driveway would be widened to 24 feet to accommodate an area where emergency vehicles would be able to make turns.

Heuser said 19 parking spaces are proposed and he said future tenants could use the existing garage and one-story building as storage space for their belongings. Landscape buffers are proposed between the parking lot and the adjacent properties, he said.

Heuser said one of two window wells – a window large enough for entry or exit in case of an emergency – would be removed on the east side of the home to accommodate the width of the expanded driveway.

Caren Ford, the chairwoman of the First Baptist Church, 232 Main St., Matawan, which is adjacent to the Victorian home, asked Heuser about the logistics of the construction that could take place at Scibor’s property.

“We are not seeing how (emergency responders) are going to turn around a fire truck,” Ford said, noting her concern with a truck potentially hitting the retaining wall between the two properties.

Heuser said he does not believe a fire truck would hit the retaining wall if one was called to the property.

The board’s attorney, Michael Irene Jr., said an emergency vehicle circulation plan has been outlined in the application.

Marcy Riley, who lives next door to the home Scibor wants to convert to apartments, said she was concerned with the possibility of flooding and added, “based on flood plain and the water when it rains, we get water in our basement all the time.”

“ … You are making the window well out of concrete. There is going to be a ladder coming out of (the window). The window itself will have an opening and if it fills with water, what exactly is stopping (the water) from going into the apartment?” Riley asked.

Architect Jorge Fernandez, representing Scibor, said the existing windows would be replaced and said water would be dispelled into into a “seepage pit.” The seepage pit, Fernandez said, runs underground and through the back yard.

Gordon Gemma, a professional planner who is representing Scibor, said the application before the board is “100 percent” compliant with Matawan’s land use law. Gemma called the application a “winner” and said the proposal is consistent with the goals outlined in the borough’s master plan. 

In 2007, Scibor went before the board to seek a use variance that would have allowed him to convert the mansion into commercial office space. His request came up one vote short of approval.

Gemma, who testified against Scibor’s application in 2007, said board members at that time “made the gruesome mistake of listening to me” when they failed to permit the proposed conversion of the home to office space.

“Ten years ago when I came here, I appeared as a planner and said ‘no.’ But in this instance, as a residential use, with residences surrounding (the home), this is an appropriate use given the intent and the purpose of the zone plan. It’s appropriate given the particular suitability of the site. It’s appropriate in that it has no impact on your master plan,” Gemma said.

Resident Sam Rizzo asked why eight apartments, specifically, are proposed in the application.

Gemma said that question is better suited for design professionals.

Resident Regina Hawn said, “I live one building separated from this building. … By changing one unit in this particular area, we make all the other homes available for modifications. … On the deed itself, what is to preclude the owner of the building from selling to someone else who is no longer bound by those conditions?”

Alfieri said subsequent changes to the property would not be permitted without the board’s approval.

Some residents expressed frustration with the current condition of the home and said it has not been maintained. They said rehabilitating the 143-year-old mansion could cause the home to lose its historic character.

Resident Kim Cole had a different view of the situation and told the residents who are opposing the application, “You are destroying this piece of history with your prevention (requests). (Scibor’s) intention is good. You are not giving him the opportunity to show you.”

Scibor previously said he purchased the home and property at 226 Main St. in 2007 for $450,000. He said if the landmark residence is not restored, it can be demolished.

In an interview after the meeting, Roinestead, who chairs the Matawan Historic Sites Commission, said Scibor could receive grants from the state to offset the cost of rehabilitating the site if he registers the home as a historic property.

“(Residents and officials) are all in favor of doing something with the property, but we want a preservation aspect” to the rehabilitation, said Roinestead, who recused himself because he lives within 200 feet of the property that is the subject of the application.

Roinestead said the home’s interior “standout features” such as Tiffany chandeliers and marble mantels were “pillaged and sold at auction” during foreclosure proceedings involving a previous owner.

A memorandum issued by the Matawan Historic Sites Commission on Feb. 25 and sent to Scibor states, “We commend Mr. Scibor and family for taking on such an iconic Matawan property. For the past decade, the building and property have sat idle and fallen into disrepair. We would like to see the building being used for something that would justify its upkeep while preserving it as the gem of Matawan.

“… The Historic Sites Commission would like the Planning and Zoning Board to grant the owner a variance for 226 Main St., to be rezoned for multifamily use on the condition that (Scibor) agrees to register the Ryer house with the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Register of Historic Places …” the commission said.

Scibor said if the board approves the application and the rehabilitation of the building is carried out, he may consider registering the home as a historic site.

Several days later he informed the Independent that if the application is denied, he would demolish the home.