EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - What exactly is happening at the intersection of Summerhill Road and Old Stage Road that has local residents ready to rumble? Construction? Traffic? Loss of a sense of neighborhood? In the circuitous road that is the internet, facts and suppositions sometimes intersect, and it's difficult to get the real story. During the past three weeks, following a letter sent to residents within the neighborhood around 377 Summerhill Road, locals have been upset about the impact of a proposed development at that address that would bring a mixed-use enclave to the already-busy intersection.
Here are some of the facts regarding the proposed development:
In 2016, East Brunswick, like most other towns in New Jersey, was required by the state Supreme Court to provide either planning for or zoning for affordable housing. East Brunswick was told to make available 315 units. At this time, 115 of those units will be in the township's Redevelopment Zone that it located on Route 18 between the New Jersey Turnpike and Ferris Street. The other units have been "spread around town" according to Mayor Brad Cohen. There are several locations that have been zoned -meaning that owners can build on them after submitting an application for development based on current zoning.
The Landlord Protection Agency provides a brief explanation of the difference between affordable housing and low-income housing, "While affordable housing and low income housing may seem to have the same meaning, they are different. Affordable housing would be for tenants that have three to four times the rent amount in monthly income. The rent they are paying is affordable to them. Low-income housing would be for people that barely have two times the rent in monthly income." More information, supplied by Housing Specialist Linda Rubenstein, can be found on the East Brunswick Township website.
The plan that has been submitted for the construction on Summerhill Road designates 24 (20% of the total) apartments as affordable housing, not low-income or Section 8 housing for which citizens apply.
"At this time," says Debra Rainwater, East Brunswick Planner, "The lot on Summerhill Road has been zoned for multi-use development. That's all."
"The meeting of the East Brunswick Zoning Board, which was originally supposed to have taken place on May 17, has now been rescheduled to June 7 at 8:00 pm at the request of the developers," says Joe Criscuolo, Township Administrator.
A plan for development of the property, including traffic, water, power, and other required studies, has been submitted to the EB Zoning Board by HD Summerhill LLC, the property owners who purchased the parcel from mega-developer Mack-Cali in 2017. The design includes three four-story residential buildings, a clubhouse/fitness center for residents, a Chase bank, a CVS, and parking spaces. The developer is Diversified Realty Advisors LLC , company that addresses properties and makes investments in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Currently, their designs can be seen in various stages of progress in Union, Long Branch, and Eatontown. (A photo of one apartment building built by Diversified is attached to this article.)
"The residential units will include 42 1-bedroom apartments, 73 two-bedroom apartments, and 5 three-bedroom apartments, with 39 attached garages and some parking spaces," says Rainwater. As specified in the COAH law, 20% of these - 24 apartments - will be affordable.
The plan also calls for 150 feet of wooded buffer between the residential development and the current neighborhood. "Normally the buffer would be 50 feet, " said Rainwater, acknowledging a change made by the Township Council in 2016 after neighbors objected to the zoning. There will also be trees along Old Stage Road.
No construction will be done in or near Frost Woods. However, the construction design allows for some parking spaces so that East Brunswick residents can have easier access to the 2.25 miles of trails. Currently, there is no parking for Frost Woods on either Summerhill Road or New Brunswick Avenue, the two public entrances to the preserved area.
Two accesses on Summerhill Road (Middlesex County Road 613) will be added. One is slated to be on the northerly portion of the site accessing the proposed bank. The second access on Summerhill Road will be centralized near the existing entrance to the property. This will serve the proposed CVS and apartments. An additional access point will be located on Old Stage Road in close proximity to the existing drive. However, this driveway will allow for right and left turns in but only right turns out.
The Major Concern:
Among those who have been sharing their views on social media and on the new website Savefrost.com, the greatest concern is the impact on local traffic. Residents assert that the traffic at the intersection of the two heavily-traveled roads is already a serious problem. Rainwater shared a 72-page Traffic Impact Study prepared by Dynamic Traffic of Lake Como, NJ that was required as part of the developer's plan. The report charted the traffic during times of heaviest volume: "Manual turning movement (MTM) counts were conducted on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 from 7:00 to 9:00 AM and from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and on Saturday, June 24, 2017 from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM at the intersections of Summerhill Road and Old Stage Road as well as at the existing site driveways and the 7-Eleven driveway opposite the site on Summerhill Road." Turns were measured to see how many people turned at the intersection, how many people got through the light, and how long the wait was at the light.
The report indicated that the current level of traffic would be given an evaluation of "D" at those peak times, with a requirement of a at least an "E." "A review of the existing analysis reveals that all movements operate at levels of service “E” or better during the analyzed peak periods and the overall intersection operates at Level of Service “D," says the report. The best place in the intersection seemed to be the entrances to and exits from the 7-11 which earned a "B", unless drivers were making illegal left turns.
The study went on to project the possible impact if the proposed development were filled to capacity. The report went on to indicate that there would be little, if any impact on traffic on Old Stage Road (it would be no better or worse) if the construction proceeded as planned. The traffic on Summerhill Road might actually be improved due to the addition of a two-way center lane (like that on Ryder's Lane near Milltown): "The driveway will operate at levels of service “C” or better for egress movements and at level of service “A” for left-turn ingress movements which will be accomplished via the proposed two-way center left turn lane."
In conclusion, the study went on to find that the addition of the two-way lane on Summerhill Road is likely to improve traffic there, but the intersection of Old Stage and Summerhill will be no worse than it is now. Old Stage Road will still be "stacked" at peak travel times. However, the study suggests that the new construction will have little impact on the situation as it currently stands.
What Happens Now:
The meeting of the Zoning Board regarding this property will be the first of many. Says Rainwater, "The Zoning Board is a quasi-judicial entity that makes decisions based on the law. There will certainly be multiple meetings. This is the beginning of a long process."
Both the township administration and those residents concerned with the impact of the development in this area of East Brunswick have encouraged interested citizens to attend the upcoming meetings and to let their voices be heard.