NEWARK, NJ - The city planning board on Monday approved a two-building development with 255 residential units next to Pavilion Towers, but not without opposition from residents and those from a nearby church.

Russo Development, of Carlstadt, entered a joint venture with the current property owner at 349-377 Broad St. State business records show Eli Dweck is the registered agent of 349 Broad Street Newark, LLC, which is based out of an office in Edison.

“We've ... redeveloped a number of properties just across the river in Kearny,” said Russo Development Vice President Doug Bartels. “We're very excited to take this step now, crossing the Clay Street bridge and developing our first project here in Newark.”

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The property has been sitting vacant for at least 11 years, an attorney for the applicant said. Another resident estimated that it's been unused for 50 years. 

The project will keep the existing Burger King that sits near the three-way intersection of Broadway, Broad and Clay streets. A boulevard will be constructed between two newly-created buildings with an entry point on Broad Street.

Two 5-story buildings will be created: one with 105 units and 70 parking spaces, and another with 115 units, 112 garage spaces, retail and office space. With other on-site parking, there would be a total of 268 spots, the project traffic engineer said.

Amenities would include a pool and a community gallery. Two small pocket parks would also be created on the edge of each building on the Broad Street side.

Those who opposed the project raised concerns about traffic and a lack of communication with the developers. Residents also wanted the developer to keep affordable housing on-site, as per the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance.

The planning board approved the development with conditions that required the developer to keep affordable housing on-site, have a conversation with community members and to make sure to meet with the city’s engineering department to discuss traffic concerns.

Developers of other projects in Newark have planned to pay into an affordable housing fund instead of keeping low-income units on-site, stirring concerns of gentrification. An attorney for this project said the applicant was ready to pay $1.7 million into the affordable housing fund before the planning board made its condition.

“The inclusionary zoning ordinance is totally in effect in every neighborhood in Newark and this project has to meet the standards,” said John Goldstein, of Homes for All Newark. “I don't understand why, when they bring these projects before you, they don't talk about it or they say they're not going to have any affordable units.”

Residents of Pavilion Towers, two 22-story buildings with 680 residential units that sits across from the Broad Street Light Rail Station, were concerned about traffic and parking. The project could possibly have a right-in, right-out driveway leading to Broad Street.

Planning Board Chairman Wayne Richardson was concerned that motorists would make an illegal left turn onto Broad Street.

“The area already has heavy traffic,” said Anastasia Bez, a Newark resident.

Jennifer Mazawey, the project’s attorney, said the applicant submitted a traffic study to the city’s engineering department on March 7. But, Mazawey said, the city did not return a report about traffic suggestions until Monday -- the day of the meeting.

Planning board members demanded to know what the hold up was. Uzoma Anukwe, who works for the city's Division of Traffic & Signals, said that while the applicant was responsive to phone calls, he never set up a face-to-face meeting.

“The department of engineering did the very best we could to get the report ready for the hearing,” Anukwe said. “It's normal standard operating procedures for the department of engineering to require that the applicant meet with us for bigger projects. So many projects that are big have met with us."

Veronica Rose Clarke, a warden at the House of Prayer Episcopal Church near the project, said she was concerned with how the project would impact access to the church.

“We are very concerned with the impact that this development will cause to our buildings, the community and access to our church,” Clarke said. “Therefore, we reserve our right to take further action and request a decision on this matter be deferred at this time.”

Clarke later expressed frustration to TAPinto Newark after the project received conditional approval from the planning board.

An earlier version of this article conveyed the project's boulevard would connect Broad Street to MLK Boulevard. Design plans show there is an entry point on Broad Street, not MLK Boulevard. 

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