Township council comes to aid of Byram resident

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    Byram - One day two summers ago, Griffin Pero decided it was time to build the garage he and his wife had always wanted for their home. But the Byram Township resident had an even better idea. At least he thought he did. "Moving would have been easier," said Pero, after addressing a recent town council meeting, where members voted unanimously against repealing an ordinance that would have blocked him from building a small apartment above his proposed garage to house his in-laws. "One of the first people I talked to in Byram about doing this said, ‘Forget it. Don't even try. Sell and find something else that meets your needs.'" But Pero wanted nothing to do with moving. He had grown up in Byram; bought a home in the Forest Lakes section of town; and now wanted a place nearby where his mother-in-law could care for her husband who is afflicted with Alzheimer's. "It was that simple," said Pero. "My mother-in-law is having a hard time. Her waking hours are dedicated to helping her husband. The burden of care is solely on her. It's a stressful situation that is taking its toll on her." The township, according to Pero, through no fault of its own, didn't initially see it that way. Instead, Pero believes, the township saw him as someone who was taking advantage of an exiting law -- Chapter 77 of the municipal code -- which defines the construction of accessory apartments as low- and moderate-income housing, thereby allowing for grants through the state Council on Affordable Housing; in Pero's case, about $10,000. But the reality on the ground was not as easy as the law suggested. "Nothing was proceeding well," said Pero. "We were getting delays at every corner." First, there was the $3,300 bond that needed to be posted so that he could begin the process of replacing his existing septic tank the town had required of the new construction. Then, there was the $1 million liability insurance he had to come up with in case someone got hurt during excavating procedures. Delays were met by more delays until, finally, the township planning board advised Pero that he had applied for the wrong building variance. More bad news followed when the township planning board voted to repeal Chapter 77, calling it unnecessary because of other obligations that would meet fair housing requirements. "I didn't know the difference between a ‘D' and a ‘C' variance," he said. "I had never heard of Chapter 77, COAH, and municipal land use. Now, I know more than most people." Pero also knew plenty of local friends and family, who showed up at the council meeting in support. Their presence, Pero said, spoke volumes. "You don't get what you don't ask for, but there's a proper way to ask for it," said Pero. "I've learned a lot about municipal government. They're swamped. If you're trying to get something done, you should use due diligence to help the council get the relevant information to make an educated decision." Several council members were impressed with Pero's presentation and said they would seek a solution as to why a proposal to repeal the accessory apartment ordinance came about. Councilman Earl Riley argued that Chapter 77 should "remain on the books" because if will help the township meet future COAH requirements. "The town council is now aware of low- and moderate income needs in Byram," said Pero. "At some point in our lives, we're all going to know someone who needs low- and moderate income housing." In the meantime, Pero hopes to begin building his new detached garage and apartment by summer; his bright idea no longer dimmed. "We thought for a long time that no one cared," he said. "We now see that the town council does care."