BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Since it made its first purchase of 44 acres of land in 1981 and built its first building at 100 Connell Drive, economic conditions have changed more than once and the Connell Company has changed its plans to fit the conditions.
Today the 180+ acre site now is home to office buildings, Embassy Suites, Grain and Cane Restaurant, Starbucks, The Grove – an outdoor work center with WiFi, desks, charging stations, and a waterfall, jogging trails, Lifetime Fitness – and more is planned.
In November 2015, Connell Corporation Executive Vice President Shane Connell made a presentation to re-zone an area of Connell Corporate Park for Phase 4 of the corporate park.
In August 2017, Connell appeared before the Township Council with a conceptual plan for high-end mixed-use development on 12 acres of the 180-acre corporate park.
He and several experts returned in April and made a more detailed presentation about what Connell said they envision as an area that feels like “a twenty-four/seven community.” They are looking to create a place where people want to work and live – with concierge services, cultural events, restaurants, retail, a specialty grocery store, a children’s play area, dog park, jogging, walking and biking trails and an outdoor fitness area, just to name a few amenities that will go with the residential area. He said the aim is to create a living environment that is “very urban” and a work environment that is “very flexible and social.”
To do this, the zoning has to be changed, in part because the topography of the land creates barriers to building the residential units, as well as the retail, restaurant and specialty grocer, while establishing a "Main Street" feel and connecting to the rest of the Connell Park.
Dave Lustberg, CEO and Managing Principal of Arterial Streets in Montclair, explained the need to have connectivity between the already existing The Grove North, and the yet to be built The Grove South, and the rest of the campus. The public spaces between the buildings are very important today, so the goal is to make this office park “cutting edge and sustainable in the future and providing an amenity to the community,” he said. Employers and millennials are looking for walkability and connectability and creating a unique experience, “as well as diverse and robust amenities” for the community and those who work and live on the campus. he said.
The path around the campus will have some seating and different areas will have different looks - near 78 there will be a wooded area. In the center will be The Grove. There will be a dog park with a high end food with bar service that can be accessible from both the dog park and other non-dog areas. It will be a "social hub," he said. There will also be a flexible field, sized for mini-soccer, which can be used for yoga and other activities, a modern fitness court, a children’s play area and, within the park itself, another food area, which will be accessible from the dog park, the playground and an outdoor seating area.
The Main Street area will be flanked by housing on one side and restaurants on the other side.
Bryan Waisnor, president/vice president of Langan, a professional engineer, said previous plans for the development which were proposed in 2015 and 2017, were basically a “massing plan,” but they didn’t take into consideration the topography when trying to fit in all the pieces, as well as create a walkable Main Street, parking for those who want to run in and run out of a store, and connectivity to the rest of the site. The topography and size of the re-zoned area "became a hinderance” to achieving the plan, he said. So, after working with CetraRuddy Architecture, they realized that to make the plan function well, they needed to have a larger area with an “entrance road” and a Main Street feel, with parking near the grocery store, better circulation for everyone who works, lives or visits the area, so something beyond the existing “OR A1 zone” was required, Waisnor said.
John Cetra of CetraRuddy Architecture spoke about the project said, he thought it was “a great way to take an office park, which is very beautiful in terms of landscape, and to enhance it and bring the twenty-four/seven activity, live-work environment to it.” They are creating a “district” within the Connell Park and it will contain residential, commercial, office and recreational space, and incorporate what already exists.
The Main Street concept is unique, because of the topography and the existing buildings. The Main Street will accommodate cars and people, with the axis of Main Street going from the hotel, with two residential buildings on the north side of Main Street and two “L-shaped” separated buildings, together with restaurants that will relate to the existing office buildings. There will be a parking structure for residents and shoppers, he said. The grocery building will be a separate building with its own parking. The residential buildings will be reminiscent of old loft buildings with large windows, he said. The buildings will vary from seven to 10 stories, he said.
To accommodate these changes, they will have to be change the zoning of much of Connell Park. If all goes as planned, the grand opening of the Main Street area will happen in three years Connell predicted.
See photo gallery for the Connell Park open space concept plan.
Watch the LiveStream of the meeting to see the full presentation.