BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The planning board unanimously approved a zoning change Tuesday for the former Sanofi Aventis site on Route 202/206, which will make way for a planned redevelopment that will include rental apartments, a hotel, supermarket and retail shopping in what is now the Center for Excellence.
Advance Realty purchased the property where Sanofi was previously headquartered on Route 202/206, and then made a request to have it be considered for redevelopment. The entire facility is 110 acres, with more than 60 acres vacant.
The property has been deemed an area in need of redevelopment.
The back area of the property was also rezoned at Tuesday’s meeting. That 47.6-acre parcel has not been deemed in need of redevelopment, and contains laboratory space, office space, warehouse space and more.
“It is modern, highly functional and something that is not anything but an asset in terms of the market,” township planner Scarlett Doyle said.
But the main change was for the front section of more than 60 acres that is being redeveloped, and which has been changed in the master plan to an RSD zone (residential services district) to account for the residential and retail properties being planned.
Planner Frank Banisch discussed the plans for the property, which will include a mix of retail, restaurants, apartments and offices, as well as a hotel anchoring the property, a health/wellness center, a residential neighborhood of multi-family units and a supermarket.
The apartments built over the retail properties will be rental units.
Banisch said that less than 15 percent of units in Bridgewater are rentals, and it is not uncommon for a community that has grown to be mostly single family uses. Rentals, he said, often attract milennials, those in the 18 to 34 age range, which Bridgewater is looking to attract.
“That group is looking for an accommodation that is not going to be a purchase, they are looking to rent,” he said. “They will be creating company’s innovations or patents and future profits. A lack of rental housing is causing milennials to leave the town.”
First for the project, Banisch said, they will be looking to make some improvements to traffic flow along Route 202/206.
“With a successful plan, you can’t just pile on more traffic and hope that we can manage it somehow,” he said.
Traffic engineer Joe Fishinger said there will be plans for improvements to some intersections as far as site line improvements and widths of surrounding lanes.
“We didn’t want to recommend left turn lanes, but full shoulders will allow for cars to go around if someone is trying to make a left turn,” he said.
In addition, Fishinger said, they are looking to maintain the exiting signal at Deerfield Road, and are also recommending a traffic signal at Foothill Road near the facility.
“Along with that, the signals along the whole corridor need to be re-coordinated to help with the platooning of traffic,” he said. “There will be more traffic than there is now, but these are improvements that we feel will improve conditions.”
Banisch said the conceptual development of the facility is that it will be a destination site with design elements along a boulevard that will have a profound visual character. There will be a circle and fountain when people first enter the property, he said, and at the end of the visual corridor, the hotel will be the focus.
“A mixed use site offers walkable destinations for people living on the site,” he said. “The mixed use brings a mixture of uses that allow for a reduction in peak traffic, and better fiscal balance and better transit balance.”
“It is a more balanced community on and off the site,” he added.
The mixed use buildings along the main boulevard will be three or four stories, the hotel will be four to six stories, and the multi-family units will be three or four stories. The supermarket will be one story, and the wellness center will be two or three stories.
The supermarket, Banisch said, will be an anchor store on the property, and a convenience to residents on the site, as well as for those off site who can’t get to other supermarkets as easily.
In addition, Banisch said, the supermarket will have prepared foods and a variety of menu items for people to eat during lunchtime at the companies.
The mixed use village, Banisch said, will offer amenities, affordability and accessibility.
“We can offer all three,” he said. “We are looking to make sure that this walkable community has a unifying aspect.”
“We are not trying to make an urban type of place, but we are trying to use urbanism to create it,” he added. “We think this opens the doorway for more milennials that will keep housing values high and taxes low. They will become the single family home buyers of tomorrow, and that’s what communities are looking for.”
Planning board member Ron Charles said he believes it will be important to find a link in the facility to train services and ways to get to New York City.
“If we are going to make a statement that we are making this attractive to milennials, we have to be more distinctive as to how we are going to connect fundamentally to New York City,” he said. “If we really and truly envision this as a development for the future, that type of stuff has to be first.”
Banisch said there are recommendations for buses to become part of the mix. The plan, he said, shows a park and ride lot for bus riders to be picked up, but at this point, it is not going to be built because there is no bus service in that area.
“It has been called to be removed until there is bus service,” he said.
But Holmes Court resident Andrew Leven questioned the need for such a large multi-use property, particularly with regard to the rental apartments.
“Is the basic goal here that we’re trying to get a self-contained community, that people work where they live, shop where they live?” he asked.
Banisch said the main ideal is to have various components in the same place. He said studies have found that adding housing to sites with multi-use development makes it more of a success.
Leven questioned whether this type of redevelopment has been done in any other property that mimics Bridgewater.
Banisch said he could not point to a specific community like Bridgewater.
Leven also questioned whether the township just doesn’t have enough rental units available, and whether that is why the new redevelopment is including that.
“That apartments that are already here are not outfitted with modern things and modern features,” Banisch said.
Leven said he does not understand why the project is targeting milennials, and why this type of redevelopment appears to be being tested in Bridgewater.
“I didn’t get any facts to some very basic questions, like where this has been done before,” he said. “Before we become a community guinea pig, maybe we should get some facts on the table.”
The planning board voted simply on the zoning changes to the master plan. A plan for the development will be coming before the board, as well as an ordinance concerning zoning changes to be presented before the township council.