BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Another development included in the township’s court-approved affordable housing settlement has received preliminary and final site plan approval from the planning board.

Wednesday, June 20, the board voted to approve the all rental, 196-unit age-restricted development “Woodcrest at Berkeley Heights,” 100 Locust Ave.  

Whether there will be brick pavers or stamped concrete sidewalks has yet to be determined, along with other relatively minor issues.  

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What is sure is there will be a light at Locust/Hamilton and Snyder avenues and the application to the NJ Department of Transportation for that light could be made within a few weeks. Also sure is no one under the age of 19 will be permitted to live in these units, they can, however, pay short visits.

The developer of the property, Berkeley Developer’s LLC, was represented at the meeting by one of its principals, Tony DiGiovanni.

The board heard testimony from the applicants experts on the how the site plan conformed with the plans contained in the Redevelopment Agreement.

Architect Avelino Martinez of Black Bird group, described the details of the project. There will be two buildings, Building A, at the far end of the property, away from Locust Avenue, and Building B which will be at the front of the property. The buildings will essentially be at right-angles to one another, with a club house or recreation center for all the residents located in Building A. Outside the club house entrance, there will be a porch overlooking a common area featuring patios, porches, decks and a gazebo connected by sidewalks between the two buildings. 

Building A will have 109 units, consisting of 14 one-bedroom and 78 two-bedroom market rate apartments, and 17 affordable one-bedroom units, distributed throughout the building. 

Building B will have 87 units, consisting of 18 one-bedroom and 57 two-bedroom market rate units and 12 affordable one-bedroom units.

In each building, the one-bedroom market rate apartments will average about 950-square-feet, the two-bedroom units 1,400 square feet.

Martinez called the exterior style of the building “suburban architecture” which features a muted color pallet of various shades of brown, white trim and stone on certain facades.

The majority of the parking will be in garages under the two buildings, with one entrance to each garage. Building A will have 186 parking spaces and Building B, 121 parking spaces in the garage. There will also be 79 surface spaces for a total of 386 parking spaces on the site, Martinez said.  The garages will be made of non-combustible materials, the upper floors of “fire resistant wood frame construction,” and the building will have a sprinkler system, Martinez said. Each building will also have an emergency generator and the mechanicals will be on the roof and not visible to the public.

The property slopes to the rear, so the elevation on Building A at the rear of the building is four stories and three stories at the front.  

When construction begins, it will start with Building A, then Building B will be phased in – possibly after three months. Building A will be occupied first, followed by Building B. There will be a separate construction entrance to the property, to keep traffic separated once Building A is occupied, the architect said. Once construction is started, it will take 15-18 months to finish Building A, and a total of two years from start to finish of the project.

Engineer Mike Junghans described the property, pointing out the property slopes toward the NJ Transit railroad tracks in the back. There is also an electrical substation adjacent to the tracks. The existing drive and wooded area along Locust Avenue will be maintained and wetlands in the back of the property will be undisturbed.

In answer to a question about the parking spaces and “tandem parking” in some areas, Junghans said, “every space under the buildings are assigned,” exterior parking spaces are not assigned. The tandem parking spots will be assigned to the same apartment and the residents will have keys for all their vehicles and be able to switch cars, as needed, he said.

Board member Kevin Hall questioned a recommendation by Junghans to drop the brick pavers agreed to in the original settlement agreement in favor of a more “safe” choice of an appropriately colored concrete sidewalk with the paver pattern stamped into the surface. Junghans said, “It is durable and the product is less susceptible to settling,” which creates a tripping hazard for older people.  He also argued in favor of concrete sidewalks next to the parking spaces, because during the winter, the maintenance of the parking lot and sidewalks can damage pavers. He also recommended changing the color from an agreed upon “fire engine red,” to a brownish color more in keeping with the more subdued hue of the exterior of the buildings

Hall said, “This is a significant departure from the Redevelopment Agreement.”

Board member Jeanne Kingsley agreed, “We negotiated hard” on this project and its requirements such as pavers, not concrete sidewalks are ”half the reason we did PILOTs” with the developers. “I am uncomfortable giving up on pavers,” she said.

The developers also wanted to eliminate a “sidewalk to nowhere” along the Locust Avenue side of their property. There is a crosswalk from the Woodcrest at Berkeley Heights, across Locust to the yet-to-be-built YMCA and the existing outdoor swimming pool.

Kingsley urged the board to not give up on the sidewalks.

See the complete meeting here on LiveStream.

Board member and Mayor Robert Woodruff agreed, “t’s important to stick to what was agreed to” in the Redevelopment Agreement."

Kingsley said on Tuesday, the council will take up a “Complete Streets” measure that would require sidewalks on all new applications, to “make Berkeley Heights a more walkable community.” To back off from the sidewalk requirement only five days before the council votes on the measure would set a precedent for other developers, she said.

Other details in the agreement include that there will be no left turns from Woodcrest onto Locust Avenue. There will, however, be a traffic light installed by the developers of that property at the corner of Locust/Hamilton and Snyder avenues. Locust Avenue becomes Hamilton Avenue after it crosses Snyder Avenue. 

The board approved the application with a list of conditions, all of which will be included in the final resolution during the board’s July meeting. Experts from the township and developer will address those conditions in meetings and determine how they will be met.