Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wayne Chooses Open Space over Religious Center

From Northjersey.com:
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

WAYNE -- An Albanian group's plan to build a mosque and community center has been denied by the Planning Board, leading township officials to consider public takeover of the property as open space.

The group has spent four years before the Planning Board seeking approvals to build on 11 hilly acres it owns at Colfax Road and Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike.
...Township officials have consistently said the issue is not religion and that their sole concern is to preserve the wooded tract because its rocky slopes make it unsuitable for building.

"It's the poster child for a property that should be preserved for open space," Mayor Scott Rumana said. He said township officials will look into condemnation procedures to acquire the property.

Aside from environmental issues, officials said the inclusion of the community center caused the overall proposal to fall short of the number of parking spaces required by the township.
The Planning Board vetoed the project, 7-0, last week. It will adopt a final resolution at a future meeting. The Albanian group will have 45 days to file an appeal to the council.

The decision concludes deliberations that took place at 19 meetings over about 44 hours, said Tim Collins, board member. "In my nine years on the board, that's the longest case I've ever sat on," said Collins. "We did not vote against them locating in Wayne. We voted against the site that was before us."

"This has nothing to do with religion and has everything to do with the sensitivity of the site," Collins said. "If they came back before us with another site, we would review it with open eyes."

Foreclosures R US

Monday, January 29, 2007

When hospitals aren't the best neighbor

Although homeowners are required to disclose information regarding environmental hazards near their residential properties, they often plead ignorance(no excuse). Remorseful buyers have the right to sue for breach of contract well AFTER the closing if such info was public knowledge. PlanetHazard uses information from the EPA to map over 86,000 companies throughout the United States that emit hazardous air pollutants. They black flag known pollution sources--with a detailed breakdown--on Google-friendly maps, county by county. {One unexpected source: Clara Maas Hospital.}

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Check It Out

What's the easiest way to save the environment?
We know of a hundred ways.
We've made us a list and checked it twice:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Realty Report Card for 2006

Existing-home sales eased but prices stabilized as inventories tightened in December, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, says home sales remain historically high. “Despite all of the doom-and-gloom stories and dire predictions over the last year, 2006 was the third strongest year on record for existing-home sales,” he says. “It looks like we’re moving beyond the low for the housing cycle last fall, and buyers are responding to historically low interest rates and competitive pricing by home sellers. In addition, a tightening inventory of homes on the market is supporting prices.”

Total existing-home sales — including single-family, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops — eased 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.22 million units in December compared with 6.27 million in November. Sales were 7.9 percent lower than a 6.75 million-unit pace in December 2005.

There were 6,480,000 existing-home sales in 2006, down 8.4 percent from a record of about 7,075,000 in 2005. The second highest total was 6,779,000 in 2004.

A Closer Look at the Numbers:
Total housing inventory levels fell 7.9 percent at the end of December to 3.51 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.8-month supply at the current sales pace — down from a 7.3-month supply in November.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $222,000 in December, which is unchanged from December 2005. The median is a typical market price where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. The 2006 median price was also $222,000, up 1.1 percent from a median of $219,600 in 2005.

Meanwhile, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.14 percent in December, down from 6.24 percent in November, according to Freddie Mac. The December rate was the lowest since October 2005 when it averaged 6.07 percent.

The median existing single-family home price was $221,600 in December, which was unchanged from a year ago. The median single-family price for 2006 was $222,000, up 1.4 percent from 2005.

Existing-home sales in the Northeast declined 2.8 percent to a level of 1.04 million in December, and were 5.5 percent below December 2005. The median existing-home price in the Northeast was $283,000, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sunshine Laws Re-enforced

John Paff makes it his business to ensure that local governments adhere to open public meeting laws.

He picks towns around New Jersey, often at random, to see if their governing bodies are complying with state laws. Paff then starts a dialogue with the officials in question and if he gets no results, the matter often winds up in court.

In recent weeks, Paff, who chairs the Open Government Task Force for the Libertarian Party of Central New Jersey, visited two Middlrsex communities, Monroe Township and Milltown, and found violations in both.

A Middlesex County Superior Court Judge on Monday issued a ruling that will give the public more information about topics discuss during government meetings from which the public is excluded. Judge Alexander P. Waugh granted Paff’s motion for summary judgment; denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the Monroe Township Board of Education; and ordered the board to pay Paff’s court costs.
In a written letter opinion, Judge Waugh held that ". . . the paramount public policy [behind the
Open Public Meetings Act] is not the convenience of the public entity, but rather the right ofNew Jersey citizens to have adequate advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings. . . [and to] vindicate that right, the Board must make a good faith effort to provide the public with as much knowledge as possible without endangering the 'public interest' or the rights of others."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Cashing Out

from Marketwatch:
People looking to extract equity from their homes have increasingly been turning to cash-out refinancing, industry observers say.Consumers cashed out a total of $82.8 billion during the quarter, down somewhat from $90.6 billion in the second quarter, according to Freddie Mac.

Overall, borrowers also need to be honest with themselves before tapping their home equity, especially if the reason for the cash-out isn’t a one-time cost, said Jennifer Wheary, a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization. She recently completed a report on the issue of home-equity extraction.

“In the short-term, they will feel a sense of relief,” she said, referring to those who use the cash to catch up with such things as credit-card payments or medical expenses. But the relief will be fleeting if they find themselves in the same situation — and this time without the cushion of home equity to fall back on, she said.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

2008 will be man's first year as "Urban Species"

From the Environment News service:

How the world tackles the social and environmental challenges of urbanization, in particular the needs of the urban poor, will determine the future of humanity and the fate of the planet, according to the report by the U.S. research group.

"The global shift from rural to urban is the defining trend of our time," said Molly O'Meara Sheehan, project director of the Worldwatch report.

More than 60 million people are added to cities and suburbs every year and sometime next year more than half the world's population will live in cities.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Montclair Heights goes higher

We hated to see them slice into Garrett Mountain, and we're not looking forward to the extra traffic from 800 condos, but there's a budding new town now open for inspection just a short drive up Valley Road. With mountain, valley, & NYC vews starting at 399K, nearby condo developers may be reevaluating their plans.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Scarce Buyers Turn Condos into Rentals

The times may be changing for condo developers.
From the NY Times:

Since the middle of 2006, the frenzied condominium market here(in D.C.) and in several other big cities like Las Vegas, Miami and Boston has collapsed. Once roaring sales have slowed to a trickle, sparse inventory has mushroomed into a glut and soaring prices have flattened out and started falling.

In many cities, banks have significantly scaled back loans to condominium builders. Some have demanded that developers sell half or more of the units in a building before even beginning construction.

In hopes of salvaging something from their costly plans, hundreds of developers... are planning to rent their units for at least a couple of years while waiting for today’s condo surplus to shrink. In some cases, developers are even turning older buildings back to rentals after a brief or aborted attempt at condo conversion. Meanwhile, another 2,500 proposed condominiums in the Washington area have been scrapped altogether, according to Delta Associates, a real estate research firm.

The latest salvage operation on the part of condo developers is far from a sure bet, however. Condominium buildings generally cost more to build and operate than those built for apartments from scratch. And while rents are high and rising in most cities, in many cases they still are not sufficient to turn a profit.

Industry analysts also point out that rents may start sagging if too many condos are converted into apartments too quickly. While rents were rising at a robust 6.1 percent annual pace in the Washington area late last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some buildings in the suburbs have recently started promoting move-in specials and other incentives to lure renters.

“You can do it, but it isn’t as attractive,” Tom Meagher, a Boston real estate consultant, said about converting condos into apartments. “You are not going to get enough rent to cover the cost. You might have to go back and redesign the floor plans.”

While the recent slowdown is forcing developers to consider converting their projects to apartments and offices, ...as many as a third of them will never be built at all

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Eco-mole at Work

Vanessa McGrady was way crunchier than any of your Prius-driving Santa Cruz-alumni friends: She was so crunchy, a bear once pooped on her coffee table.

But McGrady eventually learned how to convert her passion into a living. She moved from the Pacific Northwest to civilization, bought expensive cheese and now works in L.A. for an investor-owned utility (her blog post on Grist.org doesn't say which one).

She bills herself as a kind of enviro-mole, someone working from the inside to preach conservation and energy efficiency.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Welcome to The Dopplegangers

Not Our Listings: Two mirror-image MacMansions on that much discussed teardown site, two Realtors, shared "party" driveway. 481 & 483 Valley Road, Montclair. One is already under contract.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Return to Sender at Liongate

Environmental activists in Bloomfield have one more victory to celebrate.
The second developer's application for the property owned by Copeck/Ruvo/Tilter has just been given the boot. The latest attempt didn't even making it past administrative review at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. John DeSimone, contract buyer for 5.7 acres of floodplain/wetland (nearly 3 acres of which is unbuildable wetland), has sought permission to build 38 condos flush up against Fefferman's 114 proposed condos (see 12/22).
This is their fourth or fifth bite at the apple over the course of six years. NJDEP's summer 2006 5-page letter of denial can be found at http://www.geocities.com/thirdriverbank/news1.html

On Nov. 16, John DeSimone was sent a three-page rejection letter. Among other problems, he submitted only $4800 of the $18,000 application fee and failed to properly notice neighbors.

Homes surrounding both sites suffer increasingly severe flooding with continuing overdevelopment along the Third River. The Fefferman application was rejected last month by the DEP; but it is anticipated that the developer will return with a revised application in time to beat the clock on Governor Corzine's tougher flood hazard regulations.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Comping Your Town

Just when you think you know your home town, a website like Town Info comes along with more stats than you can shake a census taker.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Home Zero Home

The Zero Carbon House is a low energy demonstration project to
show how renewable energy can create a unique living experience on a remote island in a severe climate. A holistic approach has been taken to eliminating household carbon emissions that would normally result from heating and powering the home, running the family car and growing and transporting food.

The house is based on a standard design from a timber frame company. Timber is a low embodied energy, renewable material that will be sourced from Scotland to minimise transportation costs and impacts.
This project is highly replicable and addresses social economic and environmental issues that are of relevance across the whole of Scotland, and beyond.

Details at:

Monday, January 01, 2007