Redevelopment

Planning board approves new hotel​; ​some ​local neighbors ​cite traffic concerns

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Overhead view of the hotel Credits: Daniel J. Munoz

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The city planning board voted 9-0 to approve plans for a 109-unit,​ four​-story hotel at the jughandle connecting Route 1 and Route 18 north.

The move came at the board’s November 13 meeting, after close to two hours of testimony from the hotel’s developer, Highview Hospitality NB, LLC, as well as residents in the nearby Rutgers Village, who were opposed to the hotel.

Developers from the Red Bank-based firm plan to construct a Home2 Suites by Hilton at the 1.76 acre property, which according to property records, is owned by the Edison-based Thasos Island Realty/Leontarakis as of 2017.

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The developers' legal counsel consists of Thomas Kelso, who also serves as Middlesex County's legal counsel. 

The hotel will include a lobby, indoor pool, patio, breakfast area, fitness room, outdoor lounge space and 109 parking spaces, according to company representatives. There will also be a beacon with a light on top of it, which will glow dimly from a ​top​ the hotel.

The developers will enter into a 20​-​year franchise agreement with Hilton, meaning the hotel giant expects to get 20 years worth of revenue from the site.

“Hilton previewed the site and we ran our own independent study for the site, so we determined it to be very profitable,” said Mitchell Heisler of Highview Homes, LLC, which will manage the property.

“They’re pretty strict about maintaining their brand, we are subject to regular inspection, periodic property improvement regimes," Heisler said.

If the contract is cut before the 20-​year period is up, Hilton will go after whoever owns the property and attempt to recoup the revenue which would have been generated in the remaining years, according to Heisler.

Opposition to the hotel came from nearby Rutgers Village residents, who said they worried this project would add to traffic woes.

“We’re the ones who will be most adversely affected by this hotel;​ it’s a nightmare,” said longtime Rutgers Village resident Marie Tasy, referring to traffic on Route 1​ and ​Route 18.

“We also have the carwash, it is so dangerous,” Tasy added. “We have people come off Route 1, we have people coming out of the Tiger Mart, and people do go really fast.”

Michael Rodriguez, the project’s engineer, maintained that the posted speed limit at that ramp is 20 miles per hour, which should be safe enough for people to enter and exit the hotel​. He did​ admit that ​some will drive faster.

Neighboring the lot are an Exxon gas station and Tiger Mart convenience store, the Dipyourz auto body shop and Trax Car Wash.

Also in the neighborhood will be a Red Carpet Inn and Motel 6 New Brunswick on Route 1, as well as a Hilton East Brunswick and Holiday Inn Express, both of which tower over Route 18 and the NJ Turnpike.

Elizabeth Dolan, the project’s traffic consultant, said that the hotel would generate 58 car trips in an hour, entering and exiting the hotel, a relatively “benign” impact on traffic.

“WaWa’s, QuickChek’s, 7-Eleven’s, other types of convenience uses, offices and medical offices, would generate comparable activity to the proposed hotel,” Dolan said. “But any of those quick serve or fast food places would certainly generate well in excess of over 100 trips an hour.”

The Bennigan’s​ r​estaurant, which now sits abandoned on the property, generated twice as much traffic during peak hours, according to Dolan.

“This is a well-designed site and will not lead to what is in the code ‘hesitation on the state highway,’ that is something the DOT does not want,” Dolan said. “This design will keep cars moving.”

Still, other residents remained unconvinced.

“We’re going with the assumption that the C5 was a good decision when it was made,” said longtime Rutgers Village resident Robert Gerling. C5 refers to commercial properties on highways, such as ​the enterprises found on Route 1 and Route 18.

“I think it was a terrible decision when it was made, and putting anything in that area right now is going to be a tremendous traffic disaster,” Gerling added.

Traffic coming out of the hotel primarily ​will ​be commuters ​to large ​New Brunswick ​entities, such as Rutgers and Johnson & Johnson, Gerlin​g​ contended, meaning ​these motorists​ would get caught up in rush hour traffic.

The Bennigan’s ​restaurant, Gerling contended, didn't bring in traffic at peak hours, so the traffic wouldn't be nearly as much as the hotel.

“If any of you have children who live in the village, or are of driving age, God bless you and God help you,” Gerlin​g​ said.

The board was unable to consider implications for traffic and the surrounding neighborhood​ because​ it had no authorization to do so.

“As a planning board, you cannot take into consideration whether its use is appropriate or inappropriate for the site, because the use itself is a permitted use,” board attorney Aravind Aithal told its members.

Board member David Fitzhenry, before the vote, voiced his agreement that traffic implications were beyond the scope of what the board could consider.

“It’s frustrating when you’re sitting here as board members,” Fitzhenry said. “You’re not allowed to think outside of the initial application, to go beyond that application, to ​the impact it would have ​in ​the immediate area.”

If the applicant has proven their case that all zoning standards are met ​and​ why they should be granted exceptions to those standards, Fitzhenry said, then the board ​typically ​doesn’t have any choice​ but to approve.​

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