BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Controversy has swarmed over a new website launched by Advance Realty regarding the proposed Center of Excellence development because of its resemblance to the name of a Bridgewater group that has been opposing it for months.
The new website, preservingbridgewater.com – which went live Oct. 18 – sounds similar to Preserve Bridgewater, a group that was formed to combat overdevelopment in the town.
Preserve Bridgewater is a grassroots team of residents that was formed in January to work on preserving the quality of life and suburban character of Bridgewater. They have hundreds of members, and have been speaking out against the plans for the Center of Excellence and more perceived overdevelopment around town.
Members of the Preserve Bridgewater group said the website is nothing more than an advertorial for the developer.
“When given the opportunity, the residents of Bridgewater have rejected the assertions of the mayor and his developer benefactors,” they said in a statement. “The voters rejected Mayor (Dan) Hayes and his campaign of overdevelopment. The website is devoid of any input from Bridgewater residents, and is an advertisement from the developer, it is meant to create confusion for those searching for Preserve Bridgewater, just as Mayor
Hayes’ campaign cohorts attempted to do during the primary.”
The 110-acre Center of Excellence, on Route 202/206, was formerly the Sanofi Aventis site. The council approved a redevelopment ordinance several years ago that included plans for 400 rental apartment units, of which 10 percent would be affordable housing units.
The center is also slated to include on-site amenities ranging from retail shops and restaurants to a hotel and large supermarket.
The issue of overdevelopment was a staple of the primary elections, particularly with regard to Hayes’s campaign and his opponent for the Republican nomination, council president Matthew Moench.
In a statement, members of Preserve Bridgewater said the entire Center of Excellence should be re-heard with an impartial panel of arbiters who do not have ties to the mayor and his campaign. The mayor sits on the planning board and will therefore have a vote regarding the approval or denial of the Center of Excellence application.
“This whole project has been riddled in money and politics taking advantage of the ‘Strong Mayor’ format of government that Bridgewater has,” the statement said. “A quick look under the carpet shows a gold mine of money and power.”
Peter Cocoziello, Jr., a principal with Advance Realty Investors, said he doesn’t think there will be any confusion with the website name and the name of the Bridgewater group.
“When you look at a project like this, it is about preserving an aspect of the town and the vision of the town to be one that always has a strong economic tax base, strong job market, an inviting street scape, higher density housing and creating a great sense of soul and belonging,” he said. “It is preserving the values that the original founders of the community believed in, and giving everyone who has a dream of being part of a community a place for economic vitality.”
Cocoziello said the project is about creating a shared space and recognizing that people don’t always want to get in the car to connect all the dots of their lifestyle together.
“The closer these things can come together, the greater the end experience for everyone using the project,” he said. “We are thinking about how to craft this for real estate solutions for changing environments.”
“I look at the housing component, and it’s about giving people the opportunity to move to a community and be able to enjoy the benefits of Bridgewater,” he added. “These are the next generations of people buying homes in the community, and they will develop emotional connections. They can live here without having the burden of putting down a down payment.”
Cocoziello said that on the Route 202/206 corridor, this is a phenomenal location to bring amenities and aid the township in traffic improvements, which the town has been wanting for years.
“For the last 32 years, Bridgewater has been trying to get a traffic light on Foothill Road at Route 202/206, but the DOT doesn’t look at just putting a light anywhere,” he said. “It takes a private developer funding a project like this to provide justification to do the traffic improvements to make the flow in this corridor better.”
Residents have been outspoken at planning board and town council meetings with additional concerns about traffic, and what this project would add to an already congested corridor.
The redevelopment ordinance requires traffic improvements to the area, including the light at Foothill Road, in order for it to move forward.
Other concerns have included the number of school children that will come into the school. Originally, the project had been considered for a P.I.L.O.T program (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), which would mean tax money would not go to the school district, but the town council passed a resolution saying it would not support that.
Cocoziello said the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy and Research has said this project will generate about 54 kids. But the project as a whole, he said, will generate $3.5 million for the community.
“The net to the school is about $1.5 million,” he said. “But the school has declining enrollment, it is down about 50 kids over a year, and if you look at the long term numbers, they are not trending in the right direction. Yet the costs of the school and the funding to the school keeps going up, so we have to do something about increasing ratables because it’s not sustainable unless the taxpayers want to absorb the increase.”
"We are creating an economic engine that provides opportunities for the school and town to spend more money on what is important, and not have to worry about taxing the existing rateable base to do that," he added.
Cocoziello said the new website, and an accompanying video, capture the essence of the project.
“We have been in business for 40 years, and we have a strong commitment to Somerset County for analyzing and coming up with a project that succeeds on many fronts and communicates with the soul of the community,” he said. “How do you create something in 50 years that you look back and say you are proud of what you did in the community?”
“This will be a project that everyone will be very proud of once it is complete,” he added. "In every single project, it comes down to what is the right mix of uses to make every single group better and thrive."
But residents are continuing to speak out against the project and the concerns about overdevelopment in Bridgewater taking away from its suburban feel. Preserve Bridgewater members said the website from the developer goes against what they want for the town.
“This site is, at best, an oxymoron and another attempt to ignore taxpayer/residents’ concerns,“ they said in a statement.
The application for the Center of Excellence is expected back before the planning board Oct. 28 and Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in the municipal building on Commons Way, for final testimony and a potential vote.