EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - There's lot of talk going on around town about the new construction that may happen on one location off Tices Lane. The proposed four-story apartment complex that is planned for the intersection of Summerhill Road and Old Stage Road has tongues wagging, too. Then there's the East Brunswick Redevelopment Zone which begins on Route 18 South near the Turnpike and ends at Ferris Street. Residents may be questioning what the relationship among these major projects is - if any- and who are the decision-makers regarding the planning, zoning, and revising the look and nature of both the township and of Route 18.
Let's start with the Redevelopment Zone. A Redevelopment Zone is an area designated by a township after extensive study by planners, review by the township planning board, and by vote of the governing body. That is, an area that has standing unoccupied properties and parking lots far too extensive for current needs. By definition it is a "stranded asset." Loehmann's, for example is a stranded asset, despite a few small businesses in that plaza that remain active.
Active businesses in the Redevelopment Zone will be asked to relocate as part of the township's sweeping Redevelopment Plan that Mayor Cohen has discussed with various community groups over the past year. The Zone, as currently planned, will create a "town center" and will include apartments, businesses, open space, and recreational facilities. It will function in coordination with an additional Transportation Center on Route 18 South to make it easy for people who live in the zone to access public transportation. It is a creative plan, open to an Request For Proposals (RFP) process, that will seek developers or present owners that would contemporize the township as part of an overall vision. It will very much change the southern approach to the township, and it will take some time to be completed.
Recently, the East Brunswick Racquet Club was given approval to remain at its current location, though the location lies within the Redevelopment Zone. The Township declared the site a "non-condemnation area" that would not be affected by "eminent domain" in its current condition.
The Redevelopment Zone is a separate concern from any other building that is going on in East Brunswick. Any other construction is the product of planning by developers who own or manage properties within the township. All building in the township must abide by current codes and must be approved by the Zoning and Planning Boards. Developers must stay within the guidelines presented by the East Brunswick Zoning Board, which has its own decision-making responsibilities and power. Some developers have had extended lawsuits against the township.
Summerhill LLC, the developer that is seeking to build 120 apartments, a CVS, and a Chase Bank on the corner of Summerhill Road and Old Stage Road, has filed for a variance on its development plans that were approved in 2016 by the Zoning Board, the Planning Board, and the Council. The most significant element of this variance is the height of the apartment buildings which would be four stories, making them the highest buildings, save for the Kensington Apartments near Wal-Mart, in East Brunswick. The Zoning Board will meet to discuss this variance and the impact that this construction will have on the surrounding neighborhood at Hammarskjold School on Monday, July 16 at 8:00 pm. Local residents, who have been active on social media and some of whom have retained an attorney, are concerned about the traffic in the already-congested area; some issues regarding water retention and flooding; and possible encroachment on the local open space called Frost Woods. However, the plan does not call for encroachment on or destruction of Frost Woods. The original zoning changes approved in 2016 actually required the preservation over 150 feet of trees in the back and 50 feet of trees bordering Frost Woods on private property.
Alfieri Developers is also planning a new bank of apartments in East Brunswick, building on a large lot off Tices Lane and Harts Lane. The land has been zoned for residential development. The developer has already agreed to assist and pay the township to re-configure the two streets to support more traffic and supply more directional signals. Both the Summerhill and Tices developments are in compliance with New Jersey's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) law which required zoning changes that were approved by the East Brunswick Township Council in 2016. Current Council members Michael Hughes, Camille Clark, and Michael Spadafino signed off on this agreement with the Fair Housing Authority at that time.
There is also more to come, as Route 18 is re-visioned and businesses come and go. The K-Mart location has been approved for development with retail in front and other uses in back, according to New Jersey Business magazine.
Mayor Brad Cohen said of the ongoing conversation and construction, "It's all about educating the public. The dialogue about redevelopment has been hijacked by the Summerhill and Hart's projects that have nothing to do with the Redevelopment Zone. This is very different from redevelopment on Route 18."