Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008, 6:41 PM Updated: Thursday, May 08, 2008, 4:43 AM
Bayonne boxes -- the narrow, three-story homes that sprouted up all over Newark during its recent housing boom -- are facing extinction.
After architects and city officials scrutinized the design of the dwellings, Newark has released a different set of criteria to make future homes built in the city less boxy. The city council plans to vote on the regulations at its next meeting on May 21.
If it is passed, then the new law will go into effect within 30 days of the vote.
"I hate Bayonne boxes," said West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice. "I'm glad we're changing the zoning so we can prohibit them."
The houses cropped up like weeds in the 1990s, accounting for most of the 11,000 new houses constructed in Newark in the last decade, said city planning director Toni Griffin. The houses were popular in urban areas because they provided home ownership to city residents said Carlos Rodrigues, the New Jersey director of the Regional Plan Association, which worked with Newark on the ordinance.
"They are cheap and easy to construct and they provided to ability to have a rental unit, which allowed for the owner to help underwrite the cost of the mortgage," Rodrigues said. "It was a proven product in the real estate market."
The traditional type boxes are stand-alone homes built close to eachother and feature a garage or driveway jutting out in the front. Most contain two or three separate units and are set further back from the sidewalk than older homes. Critics, including Mayor Cory Booker, say the cookie-cutter homes lack character, are bad for the environment and draw too many cars to the area.
In other parts of the country, they are called triple-deckers. In New Jersey, the name Bayonne box stuck because these homes cropped up in Bayonne after World War II.
Rodrigues said Newark joins Jersey City in targeting the box-style housing. The backlash, he said, began when neighbors complained that the boxy homes were replacing historically important or architecturally interesting ones.
The revised Newark regulations call uniform setbacks, additional windows, narrower driveways, larger backyards and increased space between houses. The city is proposing that the setback of all new houses must match the neighboring house that is closest to the sidewalk. For instance, if the house to the left sits 10 feet away from the sidewalk and the house on the right is 6 feet away, then the new home in between must be set back 6 feet.
If there is no other development on that block, the front yard setback must be 6 feet.
The city is also encouraging balconies, bay windows, stoops and porches and is calling for 30 percent of the front of homes to be filled with windows.
The minimum gap between houses will also be increased from two feet to three feet, offering more breathing room for residents and homeowners who may need to do maintenance work on the property.
The city is also recommending significant changes for driveways and parking. In order to encourage mass transit, officials plan to wave the 1 space per dwelling requirement if the home is within 1,200 feet of a station for the light rail, PATH train or New Jersey Transit bus station.
It is also decreasing the parking requirement from 1.5 spaces per unit to 1 space. The difference, they said, should shrink the size of driveways which dominate the front of the homes. Under the new ordinance, all parking spaces will have to be either inside the home, to the side or in the rear.
Driveways will also be capped at 10 feet in width and must include either mulch, gravel or grass in order to absorb water runoff. Griffin said the current designs, where the entire driveway is an impervious surface, leads to flooding in some areas.