MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Township Committee heard a presentation Tuesday evening on a proposed residential development plan for the largely vacant lots at the intersection of Chatham Road and Woodland Road. Silverman Group along with Minno Wasko Architects and Planning outlined their vision for a "transit-oriented" project named Station Lofts at Short Hills.
Michael Tobia, the applicants planning consultant, outlined the site as it stands currently and explained the idea behind the transit-oriented approach. This model strives to "emphasize access to the train station, walkability, and a connection between residential population, which is general high density and your local retail establishments, so there is a synergy of each supporting each other." Tobia explained.
The final building is designed to house 82 apartments total with a 50-50 split of one and two bedroom units. Though not set at this stage, the estimated rent is projected at $3,000 and $4,500 per month respectively.
Dave Minno, an architect/principal with Minno Wasko, detailed the demographic this type of project targets. "Who's the market? Who's going to live here? We see what we call a 'renter by choice.' Today we have whole people groups who make a decision that they are going to rent and not own. They fall into two groups. The younger millennial young professional group, generally childless. The second group is what we call empty-nesters."
Committeeman Samuel Levy questioned the potential impact on the already crowded Glenwood school. "How many children do you think would be introduced into the school system from those 82 apartments?"
An answer of "4 to 5" drew a pointed retort from Levy, "I think you will be challenged on that." Levy cited projections from a developer near the Short Hills Mall where a project with less residential units estimates up to four and five times more school age children introduced into the district schools to Minnos's max projection of 10 students.
Minno offered to share data to back up his estimates based on other similar, entirely built projects and noted, "At this price point, the development may not be family oriented in that sense." adding "we see very few school children in projects like this. We don't see hardly any children in buildings that are elevator served."
The plan also calls for a multi-use application so that the Summit Medical Group office currently using a 10,000 square foot space on the lot will get a comparable space inside the new structure with residential units above. The first phase of development would consist of demolition, but the current Summit Medical Group building would remain intact as the new space is constructed. The existing medical building would be demolished afterward to avoid an interruption in services.
Committeeman Robert Tillotson raised concern about the environmental impact of converting a "natural environment" into residential construction. "Currently this space is not used at all at night. This is a natural environment; it's a nature preserve for all intents and purposes.
This is going to be unless properly planned, a detriment to frankly one of the crown jewels of our town. Has this been thought about at this stage of the game?"
Tillotson continued to advocate consideration to environmental impingement as the project's rear portion would abut the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum. "Specifically, we can talk about lighting. You go by there now at night, it is in a natural state, if you have 82 apartments with their lights on, right into that section, you change the entire environment. Animals that go there will no longer go there." Tillotson concluded with advice for the planners, "I would personally suggest having a conversation with the board of the Arboretum."
Members of the public questioned various aspects of the proposal from access, parking concerns, building height, architectural styling as well as potential disruptions to the residents.
Tobia said, "This is very introductory here tonight. Our ambition here is to start a conversation with you, no pressure, no particular ambitions, but ultimately to have you send this over to the Planning Board for a referral of the application." They planners acknowledge that they will request some zoning adjustments so that their application could proceed variance free.
The committee thanked them for their presentation but did not announce any official recommendations or actions at that time.