BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The Bernards Township Committee and merchants at Dewy Meadow Village heard a public proposal on Tuesday night for a mixture of luxury and affordable rental housing to replace the departing A&P at Dewy Meadow Village, with similar rentals envisioned to be built over a tennis court at nearby Crown Court.

As of Nov. 8, the store managers had posted a sign at the store saying it would close as of 6 p.m. on Nov. 18.

Concept plans were presented for 141 rental units in a 4-story building at the location now occupied by the soon-to-be vacant supermarket; 24 more apartments in a nearby 3-story building at Dewy Meadow; and an additional 24 similar rentals at Crown Court. 

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The proposal, as presented at Tuesday's public Township Committee, would be to include 15 percent affordable housing for low and moderate-income occupants, with the majority of rentals to be marketed as luxury units. 

The affordable housing would assist Bernards Township in meeting a state obligation for such units, according to representatives for Bernards Plaza Associates, owner of Dewy Meadow, as well as Crown Court Associates, 

But Bernards Township officials contend they have already provided a sufficient number of housing units for low and moderate income residents, including group homes for disabled adults and homeless veterans living at the Lyons Veterans Administration facility.

Bernards Township Mayor John Malay and Township Attorney John Belardo said that Bernards Township, and other communities in New Jersey that already have submitted accepted housing plans to the state, have been granted immunity from lawsuits by developers at least until further court action in 2016.

"We have submitted a housing plan under the provisions of the N.J. Supreme Court decision that maintains we have met our third-round affordable housing obligation with our existing inventory and therefore no further units are required," Malay said afterward in an email to one of the business owners.

No housing construction will be done without a court order, mayor says

"Unless this is overturned in court, no construction of affordable housing will be done at Dewy Meadow or anywhere else," Malay added in the email.

Business owners want to keep Dewy Meadow a shopping center

Although representatives for the property owners said new residents could bring more customers to Dewy Meadow, the business owners who spoke at the meeting said they would prefer the A&P, due to close with the rest of the A&P chain in November, to be replaced with another anchor store.

Parag Chhibber, owner of Jeevy Computers at Dewy Meadow, said he would like to see a food establishment such as Trader Joe's or Whole Foods to draw shoppers to shopping center. Dewy Meadow has about 30 locally owned businesses. Having Route 78 nearby _ cited as an advantage for marketing the luxury housing - also would be an advantage for a major anchor tenant, he said.

Other residents, speaking in a variety of forums, also said they would welcome a Trader Joe's food store at that location.

Malay, after listening to what he stressed was merely an informational meeting, said that Dewy Meadow Village was constructed as a retail center, and is zoned for commercial use under the township's zoning ordinances.

Dewy Meadow center remains zoned for retail

"The Dewy Meadow center is currently zoned for retail, not for residential," the mayor said several times.

The proposal presented on Tuesday did not represent an application for approval from the township, Malay specified.

Planner says nearby housing would support businesses at Dewy Meadow

Art Bernard, a longtime planner representing the owners of both properties, said that adding about 190 more housing units, most of them at Dewy Meadow Village, would improve business for the 30 of so businesses at the shopping center off King George Road.

"With about 160 [occupants] paying luxury rentals, that could help support these businesses," Bernard said at the meeting

"We want to have a successful project," said Robert Kasuba, an attorney representing both Bernards Plaza Associates, owner of Dewy Meadow, and Crown Court Associates. "It's no secret that A&P is closing in the next few weeks."

"We hope this is the first step in an ongoing dialogue," Kasuba said following the presentation.

"These are people who will spend locally," said David Minno, representing Bernards Plaza Associates, who said he was the architect who designed Dewy Meadow. 

The luxury rental community would likely attract younger "millennial" or "empty nester" tenants, Minno said.

He also pointed to a mixed occupancy development in Plainsboro where he said businesses are thriving following the construction of housing units on a portion of the property.

Crown Court Associates, which already has developed housing on nearby property, presented a conceptual drawing for a rental building with 24 units that would slightly exceed the size of a 120 by 60-foot tennis court in that complex.

O'Bagel co-owner Donna Marie O'Doherty (El Hassan) spoke prior to the presentations, describing Dewy Meadow tenants as "Mom and Pop businesses" that are deeply involved in the local community. She also urged that the A&P be replaced with another anchor store.

"When you lift up an anchor, then you are left at sea," she cautioned.

Malay said that whether or not the property owners find a tenant for the existing A&P building is out of the township's control since it is not a zoning matter.

"However, while it is private property, they cannot build housing there without a change to the zoning ordinance. We do not contemplate making such a change unless forced to by a judge," according to the mayor.

After the meeting, Chhibber praised the "hard working" employees who stand to lose their jobs when the A&P closes. He said those employees made the local supermarket a success despite the closure of the entire A&P chain, and he would hope that perhaps a new store could offer employment opportunities for those who will soon be losing their jobs.