EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - There were 581 residents of East Brunswick and Spotswood who turned out for the East Brunswick Zoning board meeting on Monday to have their questions answered regarding the proposed development at the intersection of Summerhill Road and Old Stage Road.
Seats filled quickly at the JoAnn Magistro Performing Arts Center in Hammarskjold School, as activists and residents gathered to hear about and hash out the details of the 120 apartments, new CVS location, residential clubhouse, and Chase bank. said Township Engineer Greg Potulski, "I have never seen this many people at a Zoning Board meeting in my 33 years with the township."
Kathy and David Decker, founders of the website www.savefrost.com, were on hand early, collecting food for the CUP food pantry in Spotswood. "We will be here every time," said Decker. Neighbors Jim Milner and Chris Martin were mainly concerned with the volume of traffic since they live adjacent to Frost Woods. They were also concerned about a "ripple effect" of pollution from the lights and cars at the location.
Spotswood's Donna Faulkenberry and Rich O'Brien were also concerned about traffic, especially on the narrow side of Old Stage Road and the possibility of increased flooding at the foot of Summerhill Road. Their concerns were echoed by Dulce Branco-Rivera, Spotswood's Board of Education President, who was concerned about "too much housing, too many cars" in the area.
East Brunswick Township Council candidates Sharon Sullivan (D) and Curt Phillipczak (R) were each hopeful that the voices of residents would be heard, in Sullivan's words, "because they have valid concerns."
Mayor Brad Cohen, who had issued a statement earlier regarding the proposed development, remained an observer at the event, as he is a member of the Planning Board and may have to vote on upcoming decisions regarding this property.
The meeting began with an extended, yet necessary, explanation of the nature and functions of a Zoning Board. " If not for the variance request by HD Summerhill LLC, the owner of the property, to increase the height of the apartment buildings from 35' to 49', this discussion would already be taking place at the Planning Board level," asserted Zoning Board attorney Alex Fisher.
Referencing the legal case of Grasso versus Spring Lake Heights, Fisher spoke about the possible impact of building height on a neighborhood. He then stipulated reasons why some buildings could or could not be granted a variance for additional height: "The Board’s focus must be on whether the site can accommodate any problems specifically associated with the difference in height from what is permitted under the ordinance.
Ultimately the Board will have to decide (a) whether there are special reasons under the Municipal Land Use Law supporting the variance with a focus on whether the applicant has shown that the site can accommodate any problems created by the proposed height; and (b) whether the nonconformity in proposed height can be accomplished without substantial detriment to the public good and without substantially impairing the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance."
As reported previously by TAPinto East Brunswick, the 10.3 acres of land and the residences built there in the "Town Green" zone would help East Brunswick meet its obligation to provide affordable housing in the community as required by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) legislation. 24 of of the 120 apartments would be deemed "affordable" according to the definition developed by the State of New Jersey. There would be no "Section 8" or federally-funded housing at the site.
David Himelman, the attorney for Summerhill LLC, directly referenced www.savefrost.com and the Facebook site "East Brunswick Helping Each Other" saying that he "appreciates the concerns regarding the of residents, but they have lots of information wrong." "Frost Woods will be saved," he said. He also referenced the 150' buffer zone of trees on Francis Road that will separate the new development from the current single-family-home neighborhood.
The attorney also added that the advantages of the property's development would include the inclusion of affordable housing as required by law; viability and vitality ot an underused site, and compact, efficient use of the land."
Traffic was a major concern of most of the people gathered at the meeting, yet it was only briefly discussed by the attorney who described the required traffic report - a 72-page long document- and asked that questions regarding traffic be directed to an engineer who could answer those questions more completely.
Nicholas Minoia, Managing Partner at Diversified Realty Advisors, said that this company purchased the property from Mack-Cali, the original owners, in 2017. At that time, much of the current proposal had already been approved by East Brunswick. He said the plan was to make luxury apartments for "millennials and empty-nesters." Rents for 1-bedroom apartments would start at $1,750, with 2-bedrooms going for as much as $2,350.
He noted that CVS and Chase Bank had already signed leases for the property.
Attorney James Keneally was on hand to represent the Boro of Spotswood, while former Spotswood Mayor and attorney Thomas Barlow was there to represent Kathy and David Decker.
During the public portion, more than 30 locals voiced their concerns. Many questions concerned the number of banks and drug stores already in East Brunswick, which the developer countered by pointing out what types of businesses are good "rateable,long-term" investments as tenants of commercial property. Some questions involved Frost Woods, into which there will be no incursion. However, many residents believed that the proximity of perhaps 200 new residents would certainly impact the property. Someone asked if there would be a playground, adn was told there would be none.
Councilwoman Camille Clark pointed out that all 3-bedroom units at the property would be affordable housing. The developer answered that they usually didn't even build 3-bedroom units but were doing to to comply with COAH regulations. She then asked if Frost Woods were being "marketed" as a park near the property. The developer's rejoinder was, "We see it as open space."
Many questions centered on parking availability and the number of parking spaces in the design. The developer hedged on this one, not being able to supply a specific answer to the question - although the designs available through the township indicate at least a starting number. It was also unclear how many parking spaces would be provided to create easier access for all East Brunswick residents to Frost Woods. Currently, there are none.
Marge Paterson, Chair of the Zoning Board, reminded the audience that this was the first of many meetings regarding this development project. The developers would present the design in the future and would discuss the Traffic Report. Residents would have additional opportunities to speak at those meetings.
Some members of the audience had not yet seen the design for the Summerhill/Old Stage Road development, so TAPinto East Brunswick has included some views here.