BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – After more than three hours of testimony and discussion, Planning Board members voted unanimously to approve a resolution, with conditions, to the redevelopment of the former King’s site at 343 Springfield Ave. It is the first of several projects linked to the settlement of the township’s affordable housing obligation that will be coming before the board in the coming months.
The applicant, Berkeley Heights Developers, L.L.C. came in to the meeting seeking preliminary and final site plan approval for the Stratton House, a three-story apartment building. The developer, Joe Forgione, sat quietly in the room as his team of experts presented the project to the board with a dynamic 3-D presentation accompanied by testimony on the design and amenities of the project by an architect Bruce Stieve of Marchetto Higgins Stieve, Engineer Eric L. Keller, of Bowman Consulting, who addressed review letters received from the municipality and gave details of the site plans on and off site. The testimony was choreographed by Attorney Robert A. Kasuba of Bisgaiger Hoff, who introduced each section of the presentation and, as necessary, consulted with his client, Forgione, the township’s engineer and others in the room.
The building's footprint is directly on top of the former King’s store and it will have 82 one-bedroom, 63 two-bedroom and five three-bedroom units, all of which will be rental units, an indoor garage, rooftop terrace, and interior enclosed courtyard. Of the 150 apartments, 15 percent, 23 units, including all of the three-bedroom units, will be affordable housing. Amenities, including a fitness center, business center, and other rooms, will be located along the front of the building. The main entrance to the building will be on the corner of the far right-hand side of the building, looking at the building from Springfield Avenue.
The indoor garage will contain 292 parking places for residents and guests, with an entrance from a driveway on the far-right side of the building, looking at the building from Springfield Avenue. The garage will be secure, with a keypad or other device to gain entrance to the garage. Another eight parking places will be in front of the building. The developers had initially wanted to have 1.2 parking places per unit, the township held firm at 2 parking places per unit – one assigned space for each unit and the remaining 150 for residents and guests.
The third floor of the building will feature a 15,860 square foot roof deck on top of the parking garage, with apartments surrounding the deck. The roof deck or terrace will be shared space, as will the 8,600 square foot “quiet” courtyard that will be wrapped by apartments on three sections of the building and the parking garage on two of the three floors. Apartments will surround the courtyard on the top floor. There will be an exhaust vent for the garage and mechanicals on the roof of the building, said Stieve.
Stieve said he thought the building would be suitable for “long-term stays.”
Keller discussed engineering issues, including relocating the transformer on the site, the known flood hazard from the Snyder Avenue Brook, streetscape improvements along Sherman Avenue, and traffic.
The entire site will drain into Snyder Avenue Brook, Keller said. Because the building is within a 100-year-flood area, there will be a five-foot-deep water storage area underneath the building, so flood water can “go back and forth,” Keller said. They are not reducing any flood storage on the site today and are dealing with DEP on it, he said.
Township experts had concerns about parking, as did Jonathan Goodelman, a lawyer with Cole Schotz, who represents Berkeley Development Company, LP, owners of the CVS/Stop & Shop property. Where many people park illegally when it's busy at the neighboring property.
Keller acknowledged parking was difficult on the former King's property, especially on busy nights at Delicious Heights and other restaurants on the property they are developing. But, he said he expected there would be less traffic on the site than would have been allowed if an approved retail center had been built on the site, rather than “what we’re proposing. It’s a lot less traffic.”
He predicted many residents would have one car and some none, and they would almost always prefer to park inside, rather than outside, because it would be a long walk from the front lobby to any apartments in the back of the apartment building. Experience at other projects indicates residents would rather park in a secure, covered area, especially in bad weather, than outdoors.
Goodelman asked if it would be possible for the garage at Stratton House to be opened to the public as overflow space, “on nights where the retail space is congested.”
Kasuba said, “No.”
Township Planner Mike Mistretta, said he has spent more than five years on this redevelopment project. “It meets the goals and objectives” of the redevelopment agreement and plan.
After some discussion on the traffic issue, with the advice of Mistretta, and concurrence of Board Engineer Thomas Solfaro of Neglia Engineering Associates, it was suggested the board ask for a traffic study that incorporates all the redevelopment projects
“We have the projects, they are all in the que,” said Mistretta.
Kasuba said, “The traffic generation shouldn’t be at issue this is a permitted use … If the board was going to condition this on appointing its engineer to examine this and review this and make a recommendation … that applies to all the developers, I don’t think we will have any objection to this.”
Planning Board Chairman Michael Einbinder said, “If we do it for one, we will ask everyone to do it, too. Everybody is in the same boat.”
After more discussion, Einbinder summarized the board’s position, “We will give approval tonight, there are a lot of things they have to agree to … one of the requirements in that resolution is that they agree Mr. Solfaro will do a traffic study.”
The board took a break while Board Attorney Bill Willard drew up the proposed resolution for preliminary and final site plan approval to demolish the existing King’s building and some of the retail properties and construct the Stratton House, subject to a series of conditions, Those include the applicant prepare a formal traffic study, to be submitted to the township engineer “for review and evaluation, specifically with regard to the need for off-track improvements and the possibility of pro-rata contributions for those improvements.”
The board approved the preliminary resolution by a vote of 9-0.
The entire presentation, including 3-D renderings of the project, can be seen on livestream here.