NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Planner McKinley Mertz of Heyer, Gruel and Associates attended the Monday, March 9 council meeting to provide the council with an overview of five concept plans for the Becton Dickinson site. According to the affordable housing settlement with Fair Share Housing Center the borough has agreed to the development of 192 housing units on the site.
Council President Robert Robinson noted that the developers are looking for feedback from the council; however, the developer, Garden Homes, will make the final decision regarding the building configuration within the allowed unit count. According to the settlement 9.6 units per acre with 20 percent set aside for affordable housing can be built. This is equal to 154 market rate units and 38 affordable rate rental units.
Mertz explained that the developer is planning to build all units outside the wetland area. It is a benefit to the town and nearby residents as “it is pushing all the development away from that residential neighborhood to the west and towards the non-residential area of Murray Hill,” she said. The existence of the wetland actually helps the borough, she added.
Option 1 is comprised of six multi-family buildings with 32 units each. The units will be on average 2,000 sq. ft each with a mix of smaller and larger units. The buildings will have ground floor parking and three floors of residential units. The proposed plan is completely in compliance with the borough ordinance, Mertz said. There may be visitors parking outside, but according to the developer all residential parking spaces will be on the ground floor.
Option 2A represents a multi-family development of four buildings, each with 48 units. The units average approximately 1,400 sq. ft. The garage is planned for the ground floor and above it there would be three residential unit floors. The difference is that this plan includes a section of land for future development. The developers are “banking” development rights in the property and their pitch is to keep the land reserved for the potential next round of affordable housing requirements starting in 2025, Mertz explained. She did not recommend the borough to go along with this proposal. The council members acknowledged that this concept could potentially increase the housing density in the future.
Option 2B has a concept plan for 288 housing units on the site. Mertz did not recommend this option either as it exceeds the settlement agreement of 192 units.
Option 3A is a combination of three 48-unit multi-family buildings and townhomes at the southern end of the property. This concept falls within the ordinance. The townhouses are expected to be slightly larger at approximately 2,500 sq. ft per unit. The townhomes would also be four story constructions with parking on the ground floor. Robinson noted that there is no advantage in terms of building height to have townhomes versus apartment buildings.
With multi-family buildings you rarely get three-bedroom units, however townhomes are most often three-bedroom units, Mertz explained. More bedrooms equal greater likelihood of having families with children, she said.
Option 3B is similar to option 3A. The plan includes three 48-unit buildings, and instead of townhomes the developer is proposing stacked flats, with one unit per floor with its own outside entrance. These most likely will be three-story buildings with parking on the ground floor. However, Mertz pointed out that the developer is allowed to build an additional floor making it a four-story construction.
Robinson noted that shorter buildings are more desirable and less visible to nearby residential areas. Mertz pointed out that the property is separated from the residential area by two commercial properties as well as the train tracks. She said that she didn’t think residents on Crane Circle or Sagamore Drive would see the proposed development whether the buildings are three or four stories high.
Robinson noted that the most desirable option would be the one that burdens the school district the least. Mayor Al Morgan agreed and suggested that the borough approach the school district to further discuss the concept options.
Mertz noted that the affordable housing units will include a mixture of unit sizes including some three-bedroom units.
Borough resident Allen Swanson suggested that the concept plans be made available to residents as soon as possible. He also suggested that the developer be required to add electric vehicle charging stations as discussed at the previous council meeting.