Jumel Place Neighbors Seek Support

[Below is an excellent analysis done by the neighbors of the proposed Downton Walk Project.  This appears to be a flagrant abuse by the Zoning Board of Appeals in granting variances.  Zoning is to protect neighborhoods and this project appears completely alien to the neighborhood in which it will be built]


“DOWNTON WALK” ZONING BOARD MEETING! (7pm, City Hall) – Third on the Agenda.

This Monday, May 9, may be our last chance to stop the gigantic “Downton Walk” project in Saratoga! …We need you to attend the Zoning Board meeting and speak up for our zoning laws!

We, the neighbors of the property, have filed a legal appeal that needs support (described in detail below) and will be considered by the board. It might be our last chance to stop this radical departure from our zoning laws from being approved.

But this is about more than just this particular proposal. If it is approved, it will set a precedent, meaning more like it could be on the horizon in just about any neighborhood in the City! Yours could be next!

The Zoning Board seems ready to approve this project, and the builder, John Witt will likely have supporters in the room, without as many of us as possible attending and speaking, this massive project could be approved as is.

Please attend and speak up! If you can’t attend please write a quick email stating your concern to Susan Barden, the city planner:


We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should build on this parcel. Our aim is to make the Zoning Board require Mr. Witt to come back with a more reasonable proposal, more in line with the zoning laws that were intended to protect us from projects like this.

Thank You for your support!

-Neighbors of proposed “Downton Walk”


. . . For those who want more background, read on:


-One home is allowed on this lot, or five, if the property is subdivided. But space would be needed to accommodate an access road, so four homes seem more likely if the proper route, in line with zoning, were taken.

-Witt is asking to NOT subdivide yet be allowed seven buildings instead of one (a massive departure from zoning).

-He is calling them “individual condominiums”. He needs the land to be commonly owned, since, if not subdivided, who would own the property?

-Each home will be selling for between $700,000 and $1.5 million

-Our zoning allows 30% of the parcel to be covered by buildings. He wants to be allowed to cover 46% (a 52% increase from what is allowed).

-By not being required to subdivide and calling these “condominiums” he relieves himself of the setback and maximum coverage requirements of our zoning laws and can arrange the seven buildings any way he wants, tightly packing them in.

-On the north side of the parcel he is required by zoning to leave 25 feet between the backs of his buildings and the adjoining properties. He wants to be allowed to reduce that requirement to only six feet. The backs of these 32 foot high buildings would be virtually on, and towering over, the property line, with no room for buffer or trees. All existing trees would be cut down.

-These buildings will be large (see below), and out of character with the neighborhood.

-As of yet, Mr. Witt has not made any concessions or compromises to his plans. He has stated that if he is not allowed the full extent of what he is asking, this project would not be profitable enough for him. We feel this is a false claim – that he could certainly make a profit with a more reasonable project, more in line with zoning.


Our appeal challenges Mr. Witt’s claim that he needs only AREA variances (listed below) to build these seven “individual condominiums” on this one lot. We believe that a USE variance is required, since he is not subdividing the parcel and wants his seven buildings (instead of the ONE legally allowed) to reside on one commonly owned property in “multi-family” fashion. But multi-family, by definition, is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3). We oppose the scale of the AREA variances as well; but, in filing this appeal, we want the board to address our belief that a USE variance is needed for a condominium development of this sort. It is important to understand that a USE variance requires a very different approval process in our city.


Below are renderings of his proposal and a list of proposed heights of the homes. This would be a massive, densely-packed compound of homes. (The rectangles with rounded sides, in the overhead footprint rendering, are private swimming pools).

heights and facade


overhead angle 2

overhead angle 1


So far there are no actual measurements per unit, only Witt’s very generalized predictions.

The square footing (reflecting all living space – not just footprint) of some of the existing houses on Jumel are (rounded to hundredth): 1400, 900, 1200, 1300, 1500, 1200, 1500, 1900, 1600, 2000.

Witt’s footprints (footprint=first floor only) are: 2,449, 1357, 1472, 2099, 2739, 2340, 2070. A guess-timate of second stories would lead us to predict Witt’s proposed homes to be clearly larger — and possibly double or more — than most of the other existing houses on the street. Even his footprints alone are larger than the full square footage of a good number of the surrounding homes. From his rendering of the facades it looks as if the homes will also have a third story (see attached pdf).


1) The maximum building coverage allowed on this lot is 30%. The applicant is asking to be allowed to cover 46%, or 52% more than what is allowed. Granting this request would be a massive increase from what is allowed by zoning.

2) The applicant is asking for maximum principal buildings on one lot to be increased from one to seven, a 600% increase. Only five single-family units are allowed by law on this property — BUT ONLY after the property is subdivided. Why is this property not being subdivided? To go from one to seven houses is a massive increase.

3) The rear yard setback required for each unit is 25 feet. The applicant is asking that this requirement be eliminated by 100% for five units, going from the 25 feet required to zero (0) feet. For the remaining two units he is asking for a 76% reduction in the rear yard setback from 25 feet to 6 feet.

4) The front yard setback required for the two front units is 10 feet. The applicant is asking for only a one (1) foot setback, a 90% reduction in the front yard. The applicant claims that this is so “our (2) front porches [can] be placed on the unit.” However, his drawings show that he is not proposing porches, only overhangs.

5) The fence height allowed in this UR-3 residential area is six feet. The applicant is asking for an eight-foot fence, a 33% increase in height over what is allowed. Why is this necessary only for this development? Is the applicant trying to exclude the rest of the neighborhood? A fence this high would create an exclusive walled enclave shutting out the existing neighborhood.


-We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should develop this property.

-We all agree that the existing building is an eyesore and should be replaced

-But, first and foremost, we contend that this multi-family proposal (he is asking to build 7 homes as “condominiums” one one non-divided lot) requires a USE variance, as multi-family is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3)

-And, at the same time, we are opposed to the massive scale of the AREA variances he is requesting and of the project as currently designed.

-We feel that the current design and density of the proposal and the number and size of the proposed homes are out of character with this historic neighborhood.

-We want a revised more reasonable proposal MORE IN LINE WITH OUR ZONING LAWS.overhead angle 1.pdf ¬overhead angle 2.pdf ¬heights and facade.pdf ¬overhead.pdf ¬

3 thoughts on “Jumel Place Neighbors Seek Support”

  1. When was the last time the Zoning Board or Planning Board rejected a proposal?
    The developers are the abusers, and our City Boards are the enablers.


  2. In 1999, when John Witt proposed the Park Alley North development (off Greenfield Ave.) in my neighborhood, it began as five proportionately placed houses in a wooded setting. Then the proposal morphed into 11 houses, with, in order to preserve the local character, as many trees as possible to be preserved on the 3+ acre site.

    When the Zoning Board finally gave its approval, the woods were 100% clear-cut (including a 400 year-old oak), the bedrock blasted for basements, and 10 out of the 11 houses had footprints that exceeded the proposal as approved. Already a fait accompli, Mr. Witt returned for variances after the fact to cover the over-building. Naturally, they were approved without objection.

    If history is a guide, then you’ve been warned!


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