BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The council unanimously chose Toll Brothers as the redeveloper for the Hamilton Avenue Property.

Toll Brothers’ final bid for the land was $10,500,000. They will build 47 market value townhomes and 20 affordable housing units on the approximately 15-acre site. The four-bedroom townhomes, with the master bedroom on the main floor, and three more bedrooms upstairs, will each have a two-car garage and be priced between $800,000 to $1 million.  The townhomes are similar to those the developer built in Scotch Plains at Shackamaxon Golf Course said Mayor Bob Woodruff. Toll Brothers would also like to sell the affordable housing units which are located in two buildings within the complex.

And, yes, the library will be able to stay on the site -- for a minimum of two years.

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The final vote on a resolution authorizing the conditional designation of Toll Brothers as the redeveloper was not taken until later Tuesday evening, May 21. During the Township Council's conference session there was a presentation by the Communications Committee. Everyone then watched a Power Point presentation on the Hamilton Avenue property, the top three proposals and the selection committee's recommendation, created and narrated by Township Planner Michael Mistretta.

The council observed the regular order of business, minutes, reports, etc., after which residents asked questions about agenda items. Finally, the council  voted on five resolutions, including one on the redeveloper.

 Before the actual resolution was passed, council members praised the plan put forth by Toll brothers.

Councilman Peter Bavoso said he loved the number of units, 67, and believed that given the price point, even though the master bedroom is on the main floor, “It’s probably not a starter home for a family,” but more likely a home for a family with older children.

Michelle Greco, who was sworn into the council for the first time that night, said she thought the layout and price point are “in line with our community. They are beautiful.”

Council President Jeanne Kingsley said she was on the selection committee and has looked at properties built by the three builders who make the final cut. Her impression was the Toll Brothers' projects offer quality. She speculated that this, the smallest development proposed for the site, would have “less impact” on the township’s infrastructure.

Council member Susa Poage called it “A nice looking project,” and added that coming from Basking Ridge, she believes that the Toll Brothers developments are “nicer than K. Hov.”

Councilman Manny Couto said he liked all the “green space” on the property. This will enhance the community … it’s a win-win for Berkeley Heights.”

Councilman Michael D’Aquila said, “I feel confident the Toll Brothers project checks all the marks.”

After the vote, Woodruff said when this project was first discussed at the high school, “the biggest concern was the density” of the project. Given that the 20 affordable housing units are “non-negotiable,” the Toll Brothers proposal was the least dense. “I think the council has chosen wisely.”

Toll Brothers was one of three builders who made the initial and final cut. The others were K. Hovanian North Jersey Acquisitions LLC (K. Hov) and American Properties Realty Inc. The other six builders were not considered after their initial proposals were examined and compared to the others by the experts, said Mistretta.

After a review of the three firm’s initial proposals, the review committee asked each developer for more information, with final proposals due by April 25. The review committee examined each one, finally recommending Toll Brothers. The final proposals from the other two included some changes, but not a change in the price they were willing to pay. Toll Brothers' bid went from $10 million to $10.5 million.

K.Hov proposed to pay $12,048,650 for the land and build a development with 73 townhomes, and 20 affordable units, the townhomes would have three bedrooms, all on the second floor, with a loft, and the 20 affordable units would be in one very large apartment building facing Roosevelt Avenue.

American Properties proposed to pay $10,008,888 for the land, build 52 townhomes and 20 affordable units. The townhomes would have three bedrooms, all on the second floor, with a loft. Each townhome would have a two-car garage. The affordable units would be in the upper right-hand side of the overhead rendering that was shown during the meeting.

Toll Brothers agreed to pay up to $100,000 for off-site traffic remediation, if needed; K. Hov an amount up to, $100,000, which would be prorated and shared among others, and American Properties up to $50,000 prorated and shared among others.

Toll Brothers was the top choice for the review committee, Mistretta said.

Mistretta, who has worked for more than five years on various plans with township officials on ways to meet the township’s affordable housing obligation, reminded residents the town had asked for proposal for a 100-unit development – 80 market rate homes and 20 affordable units. 

Not only did Toll Brothers come in with the fewest number of units, they will pay for the demolition of all the buildings and structures on the site and will permit the library to stay on the site for a minimum of two years. Mistretta said the first three months will be the “Due Diligence Period,” during which the firm’s engineers will investigate the site to make sure everything is as it should be. The next 18 months will be taken up by engineering, obtaining permits from the DEP, etc. and the next three months and possibly more, will be taken up by demolition and building. 

“The clock doesn’t start (on the library’s time on site), until the township enters the redevelopment agreement with them,” he said.

Among the questions asked by residents was what the impact of the four bedroom units would have on the schools.

Mistretta said the enrollment peaked in 2008 and since then the district is "down hundreds of children." He also cited studies that put the number of students from the project at 38, the Rutgers study, and the low number at 13, using more current data. Mistretta said "Rutgers study data is out of date."

Board of Education President Doug Reinstein said the schools are not at capacity, there is room, and the board has "the ability to move students around." He also noted that there "are options and plenty of time to adjust." 

Resident Dan Brown asked about a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) and the mayor said it "was an option" and "will be negotiated with the developer" before any action is taken. Later, he urged residents to remember “that piece or property has never generated a dime for us.”

Residents were reminded that the development will have to go before the planning board before final approval is given to the project and details such as how and where green technology will be included in the plans will be finalized.