SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – At a Jan. 8 meeting, the South Plainfield Planning Board resumed its hearing on M&M Realty Properties proposal for 1111 Durham Avenue. 

At this time, John Taikina, director of real estate development for M&M, presented a few minor changes to the plans – made at the request of the municipality – and testimonies from borough fire and environmental experts were given; testimony on the impact the development will have on the schools, initially on the January agenda, was postponed due to a conflict by the district’s demographer and will now be heard at the Feb. 26 meeting.  

According to Taikina, at the request of the planning board, two gated entrances on Durham Avenue were added to the plans. Both would be located behind the 100-foot buffer requested by the municipality; one would be strictly for residents while the other would provide access for residents, visitors and deliveries and both would be accessible with a keypad and/or vehicle mounted tag. 

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“We have provided for a gated community,” said Taikina, noting that the gates would still allow for the 100-foot buffer along Durham as requested by the municipality. “We would have to make some modifications to landscaping, make sure our entry sign would fit…but we are relatively confident this plan will be efficient and meet the intention the borough is looking for in terms of access control and protection.”

Additionally, he said, the gate would be located some 125-feet off the road and would include turnaround space to alleviate the need to back up onto Durham Avenue as well as room for vehicles waiting to enter the site. 

Taikina also stated the plans were revised to eliminate the perpendicular spaces along the main north-south road between the stacked townhouses and the multifamily area. Those spots have been replaced with parallelparking to provide for the ‘full 28-foot street width’ required. Additional pedestrian crossings along the main north-south road as well as changes to the exterior design of certain buildings ‘for more depth and definition’ will also be made. 

Fire Department Testimony

During the meeting, Joe Abbruzzese of theSouth Plainfield Bureau of Fire Prevention stated the department is requesting the developer install all utilities underground; install roadway reflectors leading up to fire hydrants; install building identifiers; and install two new hydrants at the Durham Avenue entrances. The department would also like a complete fire hydrant layout with the right to request additional hydrants and/or relocate those proposed. 

Additionally, Abbruzzese requested that fire department personnel be provided with the keypad code to enter the development in the event of emergency; Taikina said the department would be provided access either with a code or vehicle tag and that the development’s security system is designed for the gates to open and remain as such in the event an alarm goes off. 

The fire bureau also requested that both the applicant and the planning board consider adding a gate at the Edison connection to provide the fire department ‘flexibility, access and operations’ into the complex. “The gate can be simple in its construction. We are not requesting any type of electronic gate system…” he said. 

Abbruzzese also stated that getting into and around the site will be a challenge for the fire department. Based on the current plans and projected road widths, turning within the development will be difficult and apparatus would have to be backed out. 

“We will be able to get in but it is going to be very tight. We will be driving on curbs, landscaping. In the winter, with snow, it will be even more difficult… I would like to see the widest roadways they could possibly give,” he said, adding, “Backing out is not the end of the world. The problem is turning into the complex and being able to set up to operate.”

According to Abbruzzese, getting to the southside of the borough in an emergency is already difficult and the construction of the residential complex will ‘add greatly to the workload of the fire department,’ which has been operating without a southside firehouse since 1995. Response times vary, depending on the time of day, and ‘rush hour is a challenge.’

“The problem with going up there at rush hour is that you cannot account for how heavy the traffic is going to be. There are times, between Durham Avenue and Hadley Road, that it is at a complete standstill with all four lanes filled with traffic, no place to go, [and] no way to circumvent traffic as we normally would. That obviously adds to the extension of time needed to respond,” he said. 

“With this in mind, it is highly recommended that the applicant construct or, at the very least, contribute to the construction of a new fire house on the southside of town,” added Abbruzzese, suggesting the board obtain additional testimony on this matter from Chief Thomas Scalera. 

According to Kevin Boris, the attorney for M&M Realty, the courts have ruled that towns cannot request the developer provide a firehouse to ensure the approval of an application. Larry Lavender, the planning board’s attorney, clarified, stating “The board cannot say you are denied because you didn't give us a firehouse, however, if the applicantwanted to be generous and spend however much it costs to build a firehouse they could do that.”  

“I think what you are saying is that we have a problem already; this is going to make it even worse,” said Planning Board Chairman Bob Ackerman. 

“Our main access is Hamilton Boulevard to Durham Avenue. One accident complicates that immediately…” said Abbruzzese of the department’s current issue with getting from the Maple Avenue firehouse to calls to the southside of town. “The point I am trying to get across to the board is that we already have a problem and this [development] is going to add to it and complicate it…We will have that front page story one day because we didn't get there on time or weren’t able to get there because of traffic.”

Environmental Expert Testimony

Dr. Alice Tempel, recycling coordinator and environmental specialist for the borough, stated that the South Plainfield Environmental Commission reviewed both the developer’s recycling plan and environmental impact statement (EIS). 

“The recycling plan presented by the applicant does not conform with borough code,” said Tempel, testifying that two recycling/solid waste areas within the development are needed; the current plan includes just one. “One drop off center is not sufficient according to borough code,” she said. 

According to Tempel, having just one drop off center for solid waste and recycling will mean people in the furthest apartment building would have to walk some 900-feet to drop off their solid waste and recyclables. As a result, she said, most probably will not walk and instead will drive to the area. 

That adds to emissions [and] is not an environmentally-friendly way of doing things,” she said. “There should be enough solid waste drop-off points so that people can walk out of their apartments and drop off their solid waste and recyclables. That is the intention of the ordinance.”

In terms of the EIS, Tempel said ‘it seems a little bit out of date’ with information from studies dating back to 2010, 2004 and even 1995. “More recent data should be provided,” she said, noting that current air quality, traffic, and storm water reports, among other things, ‘would be helpful.’

 “We will provide a revised and specific solid waste and recycling plan,” Taikina told Tempel. “We will also make sure the EIS is revised.”

The planning board will resume its hearing on M&M Realty’s development plan at its Feb. 26 meeting. At this time, testimony from the school district’s demographer will be heard. 

“We are going to work with professionals on maybe having a full revision to the plans, reflecting all of your comments, all of our understandings… between now and our next meeting,” said Taikina, adding that he isn’t in favor of given the ‘board things piecemeal.’ “It is not really fair to everyone [and] I think with this length of time between our meetings that might be the most productive thing to do.”

About the Development of Durham Avenue 

M&M Realty Properties is seeking preliminary and final site plan approval to construct ‘Crossroads at Durham,’ a self-contained 410-unit residential complex on South Plainfield’s portion of the former Motorola site; the borough property, located at 1111 Durham Avenue, is 27.5 acres with the remainder of the site located within Edison Township. 

The applicant is seeking to construct 31 buildings, including 120 three-bedroom townhouses; 120 stacked townhouses comprised of an even number of two- and three-bedroom units; 88 two-bedroom condos; and 82 affordable housing rentals units with one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. 

The development, which would ultimately be turned over to a homeowner’s association with the exception of the affordable housing units, would also include over 960 resident parking spots plus visitor spaces, sidewalks, and walkways, a two-story clubhouse with pool, and several gathering areas with benches and/or shade structures, including one half-acre of open space. 

There would also be buffers along the Durham Avenue and Route 287 borders; at Durham, the buffer would be 100-feet with signage while the one along 287 would be 25-feet. The development, based on the plans submitted earlier this month, would be a gated community with access into and out of the development restricted solely to Durham Avenue. Future development of the Edison portion of the site, however, would result in an additional ingress and egress point. 

History Behind the Development 

The residential development stems from a 2017 New Jersey State Supreme Court decision mandating that town, including South Plainfield, meet affordable housing needs left unaddressed from 1999 to 2015 with a total of 200,000 units required throughout the state by 2025. 

The former Motorola site was not initially included in the borough’s plans to meet its third round Council on Affordable Housing (COHA) obligation; in an effort to alleviate further development, the municipality created overlay zones, which essentially stated there was no land, and planned to seek a vacant land adjustment. That changed, however, when the property owner offered the site. 

As a result, the borough, under legal obligation from the court, approved a proposed settlement agreement (https://bit.ly/2OMOVkd) that included the Durham Avenue property into its affordable housing plan. Through the settlement agreement, the borough was able to negotiate how many units the developer could build; the 410 proposed are a negotiated decrease from the initial proposal to construct some 750 units on the site. 

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