NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – A 15-story project that will provide RWJ Barnabas Health with 226,000 square feet of additional medical and administrative office space will add another towering, glistening building to the city’s burgeoning health care corridor skyline.
Somerset Urban Renewal, LLC, received preliminary and final site plan and variance approvals by a 9-0 vote of the Planning Board members.
Renderings of the proposed building at 210 Somerset St., called Plum II in the application documents submitted to the city, depict it with dozens of blue-tinted, sun-splashed mirrored windows and metal panels. The front of the building is bowed, and the rear backs up to Children’s Specialized Hospital.
It will take its place alongside the proposed 12-story Cancer Pavilion and other buildings stretching for the sky near the city’s downtown section, although no timetable was given for the Plum II project.
Matthew Jarmel of Jarmel Kizel Architects said the building will not connect to the Children’s Specialized Hospital via a pedestrian bridge, but one could be added in the future.
Thomas Kelso, attorney for Somerset Urban Renewal, said the building would not only support existing RWJ Barnabas Health hospital operations but allow it to expand and modernize exam rooms and provide additional offices for existing and new physicians.
The applicant, who is also the designated redeveloper for the project, would build the project on about a third of an acre that is currently a parking lot fronting Somerset Street.
Much of Monday night’s meeting, conducted by teleconference, centered around parking. Although the building would be used by hundreds of health care professionals and patients each day, the application did not call for any additional parking.
David Bogle, the vice president of construction services at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said the doctors, nurses and other medical staff who will have offices in the building already have parking spaces in and around the Healthcare Institutional Office Zone, as defined by the French Prospect Redevelopment Area plan.
Bogle said Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital is prepared to relinquish 450 monthly parking spots in the adjacent Plum Street parking garage. He said those spaces would be available to professionals working in the new facility. Rutgers could hand over those spots by “shifting some people” because the New Brunswick Parking Authority has agreed to lease the hospital up to 500 spaces at a lot at 625 Jersey Ave.
Bogle said hospital employees have been moved from parking lots to their offices via shuttle services since the 1980s.
He said that only Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital employees would be displaced from the Plum Street deck, which will connect to Plum II.
The start of the remote meeting was delayed by about 11 minutes as several of the board members tried to figure out if their connections to Rutgers represented a conflict of interest in regard to the application.
Kelso spoke about the “interrelationship” between RWJ Barnabas, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers University. He said that Rutgers could be an occupant of a portion of the proposed building and suggested that board member who was a university employee could have a conflict.
That caused Chairperson Jeff Crum, Vice Chairperson Manuel Castaneda and members George Chedid and Chris Stellatella to recuse themselves. Crum, Chedid and Stellatella said they have spouses who work at Rutgers University and Castaneda said has worked as an adjunct professor at Rutgers-Newark.
Kelso, board attorney Aravind Aithal and the board members continued to unravel the relationship between RWJ Barnabas Health, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers University.
Minutes later, Kelso pointed out that Somerset Urban Renewal, LLC will be the developer and the landlord and that RWJ Barnabas Health would be the master tenant. Rutgers is “only an anticipatory” tenant.
When it was agreed that the only potential for conflict would be if one of the board members or their spouses worked for RWJ Barnabas Health, Chedid recused himself because his wife is a Rutgers fellow who works in the medical sector.
Crum, Castaneda and Stellatella continued to hear testimony and they voted to grant preliminary and final site plan approvals. They were joined by John Petrolino, Robert Cartica, Diana Lopez, Ryan Berger, Suzanne Sicora Ludwig and alternate Dale Vickers.