Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the purpose of the ordinance?
The purpose of the ordinance is to establish positive incentives for the owners of historic homes in Mountain Lakes to invest in their own properties in a way that preserves the town’s unique architectural and historic heritage.
- How will my property taxes be affected by this ordinance?
They won’t. The ordinance contains no new public expenditures and contains no mandates for homeowners. Your property taxes would only be increased as a result of the increase in the value of your property after making improvements in reliance on the ordinance, just as they would be after making improvements within the existing standard zoning restrictions, or with the benefit of a zoning variance.
- How does the ordinance affect my property rights?
The rights of individual homeowners are not limited by the ordinance. This ordinance simply provides a potential bonus to owners of historic homes providing relief from certain key zoning restrictions if they intend to expand their home, so long as it is done in a way that preserves its historic character (as provided in the ordinance). Homeowners remain as free as they were prior to the ordinance to renovate, expand or demolish their home in accordance with existing zoning restrictions. If the decision is made to demolish the home, there will be a 90-day notice period before issuance of the necessary permit in order to provide an opportunity for the owner to learn about the benefits that will be lost if the home is demolished, and allows for the home to be documented for the historical record before the demolition occurs. However, the owner will be entitled to obtain the demolition permit, upon payment of the permit fee, after the documentation requirements are satisfied and the notice period expires.
- I don’t own a Hapgood or Belhall. Why should others get zoning relief when I don’t?
Protecting what differentiates Mountain Lakes from neighboring communities helps keep property values high for all property owners. While traditional historic preservation regulations could achieve a similar result without providing zoning relief to any class of homeowners, it comes at the expense of regulating what homeowners can and can’t do with their properties. The ordinance is a way to incentivize the owners of historic houses to voluntarily invest in preservation of their homes in a way that helps to preserve and enhance the town’s unique historical and architectural heritage.
- I’d like to put an addition on my home without going before the Zoning Board for a zoning variance. How do I qualify for these “bonus” zoning incentives?
You must own a home that fits within the definition of a contributing dwelling under the ordinance, and your architect must certify as part of the application for the construction permit that your home — taking into account any alterations that have been performed since the effective date of the ordinance and the proposed alterations — satisfies the eligibility requirements under the ordinance.
- How do I know if my home is a contributing dwelling?
The ordinance specifies the initial definition of what constitutes a contributing dwelling eligible for the zoning incentives. (This definition can be found in Section 40-3.) The home must have been designated as a Hapgood or Belhall home (those are the names associated with the original developers of the Mountain Lakes Residential Park from 1911 to 1931) in the 2005 application for the Mountain Lakes Historic District to be listed in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, must not have been demolished, and must have been constructed prior to 1932. A preliminary list of the homes that satisfies this definition has developed by the Mountain Lakes Historic Preservation Committee and is available on this website. Over 490 homes currently meet this definition. The ordinance could be amended in the future to add other historic homes that do not meet this initial definition.
- How do I know if my historic home satisfies the eligibility requirements under the ordinance?
The ordinance contains a list of eligibility requirements (which can be found in Section 40-49B) that must be satisfied in order to take advantage of the zoning incentives for future alterations. Your licensed architect must complete a checklist and certification form to be submitted as part of the application for a construction permit confirming that the eligibility requirements for the zoning incentives have been satisfied. These are intended to ensure that the historic character of the home and the streetscape of the community are maintained. Special requirements apply separately to “street-facing facades,” side additions, height and roof shapes, architectural details, and retention of the original structure. These eligibility requirements take into account the nature of any alterations that have been performed since the effective date of the ordinance as well as the proposed alterations. Your architect will be able to help you design future alterations to your historic home to ensure these eligibility requirements are satisfied. A substantial portion of alterations made to Mountain Lakes historic homes in the past would have satisfied these eligibility requirements.
- I own a historic home, but don’t want to build an addition. I just want to make alterations. Do I need any kind of special permission to make alterations under the ordinance?
No, you can make whatever alterations you like subject to existing construction and zoning ordinances. Be aware, however, that while alterations that predated the ordinance will not disqualify a historic home from eligibility for the zoning incentives, future alterations (even ones that don’t require taking advantage of the zoning incentives) that are out of character with the historic nature of the home (as provided under the ordinance’s eligibility requirements) may prevent you from subsequently taking advantage of the zoning incentives.
- Who decides if my planned alterations, like adding a side porch, are out of character with the historic nature of my home (as provided under the ordinance’s eligibility requirements)?
The ordinance leaves that determination in the first instance to your licensed architect, who must complete a checklist and certification form to be submitted as part of the application for a construction permit confirming that the eligibility requirements for the zoning incentives have been satisfied. You or your architect may also request clarification in advance from the Borough’s Zoning Board or Planning Board (depending on the nature of the proposed alterations).
- What are the particular zoning incentives provided by the ordinance? How significant are they?
The zoning incentives (referred to in the ordinance as “Bulk Incentives”) allow owners of historic homes to make their homes significantly larger than permitted under the Borough’s existing zoning ordinance without the need for a zoning variance. The zoning incentives available under the ordinance involve:
- significant increases in the maximum FAR (explained in Question 11 below) — from 13% to 16%, an increase of increase of 23.1%, for Zone R-AA, and from 17% to 21%, an increase of 23.5%, for Zone R-A, over what would be permitted under the Borough’s standard zoning regulations;
- significant increases in the maximum ILC (explained in Question 12 below) — from 20% to 24% for Zone R-AA and from 25% to 30% for Zone R-A, or an increase of 20% over what would be permitted under the Borough’s standard zoning regulations; and
- a decrease of up to 5 feet in the minimum side setback (from 25 feet to 20 feet, as long as the total of the two side setbacks is at least 50 feet), allowing the home to be built out that much closer to the property boundary.
The complete text of the “Bulk Incentives” can be found at Section 40-49C of the ordinance.
- What does FAR stand for? How is it computed?
FAR stands for Floor Area Ratio. In general, it is computed by adding up the total floor area of your home and dividing by the total square feet of your lot. There are nuances around what qualifies as floor area for the numerator, however, so be sure to check all the exemptions listed in the ordinance. You should work with your architect or builder to understand your home’s current FAR and the potential you have to increase the total floor area of your home under the ordinance without obtaining a zoning variance.
- What does ILC stand for? How is it computed?
ILC stands for Improved Lot Coverage. In general, it is computed by adding up the surface area of ALL improvements that cover natural turf (including gravel beds, stone walkways, driveways, etc.) and dividing by the total square feet of your lot. As with the FAR, be sure to work with your architect or builder to understand your home’s current ILC and the potential you have to increase the total area of improvements on your lot under the ordinance without obtaining a zoning variance.
- Is there rounding on the FAR and ILC limits? For example, if I live in a R-AA zone, can I get away with 16.2% on my FAR ratio and round down?>No, the limit is 16.0% in that example. Anything more requires a variance.
- My historic home is already closer to the property line than the 20 foot side setback allowed under the zoning incentives, or has a nonconforming front or rear setback or height under the standard zoning regulations. Does that mean I can’t take advantage of the incentives?
No. A historic home with an existing nonconforming setback (side, front or rear) or height (number of stories or feet) will still be eligible for the zoning incentives, and will not require a variance solely with respect to the existing nonconforming setback or height, as long as the proposed alteration does not result in an increase in the bulk of the historic home that is nonconforming.
- My historic home has been moved from its original location. Is it still eligible for the zoning incentives? Or alternatively, I am considering relocating my historic home, rather than demolishing it, in connection with a property subdivision. Will it still be eligible for the zoning incentives after it has been relocated?
Yes. As long as the new location of your historic home is within the boundaries of the Mountain Lakes Historic District, it will not be ineligible for the zoning incentives solely because it has been relocated from its original site.
- What does my architect need to certify in order for my home to qualify for the zoning incentives?
In order to qualify for these zoning incentives, the owner’s licensed architect would need to complete a checklist and certification form confirming that certain eligibility requirements have been satisfied, including preservation of certain characteristics of the street-facing facade, preservation of the height and roof shapes of the existing home, preservation of character-defining architectural details such as windows, and retention of a minimum of 75% of the floor area of the original home as it existed in 1931 (but allowing for interior renovations and restorations). (The complete text of the eligibility requirements that need to be certified by the architect can be found at Section 40-49B and Appendix A of the ordinance.) The ordinance accommodates changes that may have been made to the original architectural features of the home before the effective date of the ordinance by allowing future alterations to be compatible either with those changes or with the original structure.
- Does my architect need to do anything if the alterations I am planning do not require that I take advantage of the zoning incentives?
No, the ordinance does not impose any special requirements for alterations that do not require reliance on the zoning incentives. However, even if the alterations you are planning do not require you to take advantage of the zoning incentives in order to avoid the need for a zoning variance, you are encouraged to have your architect confirm that the alterations are consistent with the eligibility requirements in case you or a future owner may want to further expand your home with the benefit of the zoning incentives.
- The ordinance requires that to qualify for the bonus the “[a]rchitectural details and materials must be incorporated as necessary to relate the new with the old and to preserve and enhance the character-defining features of the existing or original structure” — where can I find examples of details and materials that would satisfy these requirements?
There are several ways to learn more about the available options. The first is to examine your own house for its original details such as windows and dormer styles. The second is to walk around and see some of the other historic homes around town for examples of classic Hapgood and Belhall accents. You can also study the Hapgood and Belhall house photos elsewhere on this website. Lastly, the Historic Preservation Committee published a guide to these defining characteristics called the Historic Mountain Lakes Restoration and Renovation Handbook. It is available at the Mountain Lakes Public Library and is available on this website. Ultimately, the determination on compatibility is one that your architect must certify as part of an application for a construction permit that relies upon the ordinance to avoid the need for a zoning variance.
- Do I have to use single pane windows and other energy sapping details in order to qualify for the bonus?
No. Just about every Hapgood, Belhall or colonial detail is available today using modern, energy efficient materials and designs.
- The exterior of my historic house has been significantly altered from its original state and I want to build an addition. If I want to get the zoning bonuses outlined in the ordinance, do I have to restore the original exterior?
No, it was determined that owners of historic homes should not be penalized for prior exterior alterations that are not necessarily compatible with the original architectural details of the home. Therefore, renovations prior to the effective date of the ordinance are “grandfathered.” In the future, however, in order to maintain eligibility, all alterations must either be compatible with the original structure or the structure as it existed on the effective date of the ordinance. In order to implement the ordinance, the Mountain Lakes Historic Preservation Committee is creating a photographic catalog documenting the condition of all historic homes eligible under the ordinance on its effective date, which is accessible from the home page of this website. This will serve as the baseline for determining what alterations are grandfathered and which are not.
- Despite the zoning incentives, I still want to tear down my historic home and build a new modern home in its place. What do I need to do in order to obtain a demolition permit?
The process for obtaining a demolition period for a historic home involves the following:
- Deliver a written notice to the Historic Preservation Committee, either in person at the Mountain Lakes Borough Hall or by certified mail, setting forth your intent to demolish the home and the anticipated time frame for the demolition.
- Wait for a 90-day period to elapse after the notice is delivered.
- During the 90-day period, if requested by the Committee, either provide access to the home to the Committee to document the home before demolition, or provide documentation of the home to the Committee in accordance with guidelines established by the Committee and obtain a written letter from the Committee confirming that you have complied with the documentation requirements.
- After the 90-day period has elapsed, file an application for a demolition permit, including proof that the notice was delivered to the Committee and that the other requirements have been satisfied, and pay a permit fee which would currently be $1,000 ($500 over the otherwise applicable fee for non-contributing dwellings).
The complete text of the requirements for a demolition permit for a historic home can be found at Section 40-50A of the ordinance.
- Unfortunately, I will need to tear down my historic home and build a new modern home in its place. Besides allowing the Historic Preservation Committee to document the historic home, is there anything else I can do to help preserve the town’s historic heritage?
The Mountain Lakes Historic Preservation Committee maintains a salvage trailer that stores chestnut molding, floorboards, doors, hardware, and other items saved prior to the wrecking ball from previously demolished Hapgood and Belhall homes. You may contact the Historic Preservation Committee and they will facilitate this with you and your builder. Information concerning the salvage trailer program can be found at https://mtnlakes.org/committees-and-commissions/historic-preservation-committee/architectural-salvage/.
- My home is a contributing dwelling, but is already oversized based on the generally applicable Borough bulk zoning requirements. Any further expansion would not be within the scope of the new zoning incentives and would still require a variance. Is there any way I would benefit from the ordinance?
Yes there is. When you apply for a variance to expand your home, if you otherwise satisfy all of the eligibility criteria and submit the documentation required to benefit from the zoning incentives, your variance application will be judged based on the zoning incentive bulk requirements under the ordinance, and not based on the generally applicable (and less favorable) bulk requirements. This should reduce the magnitude of the variance you would be seeking from the Zoning Board. While there can be no assurance that any application for a zoning variance will be granted, this should increase your chances of obtaining the variance.