GREEN BROOK, NJ - On Feb. 22, GB Properties made a presentation to the Green Brook Township Committee to present a concept plan for a mixed-use development of the former Willows Restaurant property; the property, which has been dormant for approximately 10 years, is located on Washington Avenue in the township’s Village Commercial zoning district.

According to Green Brook’s Township Administrator/Municipal Clerk Kelly Cupit, last month’s presentation was intended to show the developer’s overall vision of the site. The project features multi phases with the first, said Cupit, involving the demolition of the former Willows restaurant.

The proposal’s initial phase would also provide approximately 7,400-square-feet of retail space along Washington Avenue with 240 apartments above. “Proposed subsequent phases include additional retail space and an undefined number of additional residential apartments,” she said.

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Some community members, however, have concerns about the plans and circulated an unsigned notice earlier this month. A copy of the notice was submitted to TAPinto Green Brook and in it residents allege that the GB Properties proposal calls for purchasing more than just the Willows property in order to build on the entire side of Washington Avenue and at the very end of School Street by Route 22.

“While we are all for progress and building to improve our town, we are not convinced this is the way to do it. This will have a major impact on the residents of School Street and the town as a whole," states the notice.

According to Cupit, the developer did present a vision for the entire corridor but "stated that the Willows site is the only parcel that they presently have a real estate interest in."

Concerned citizens, however, are also worried that the addition of several hundred apartments will have a negative effect on traffic – particularly at the ramp onto Washington Avenue from Route 22. Additionally, the notice states concern for how the project will affect police, fire and EMS resources and the strain it will be put on the school district.

“…Their plans are to build 240 apartments in three buildings to start, with street-level parking. What about the impact on our schools? We are already paying for the additions to both our elementary and middle schools and will be for many more years. Can we afford to have to add on again?...” states the notice. “What about … the high school? We [already] pay on average $15,000 per year per student to send to Watchung Hills. If families with high school-age kids move to these new apartment, we will incur the cost for each student in the amount of $60,000 for their four-year high school education.”

The notice, which encourages community members to become informed and attend upcoming township meetings, continues, “These are just a few of the issues we see as important.”

Cupit noted that the GB Properties proposal is the first project to be submitted for consideration under the Village Commercial zoning criteria, which was established nearly a decade ago with the goal of allowing a mix of commercial and residential uses in a downtown-style development. Additionally, in 2012, the township’s Strategic Plan identified that the two most important issues facing Green Brook were the revitalization of Route 22 and the redevelopment of the Washington Avenue corridor.

“Somerset County and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) have recognized this as a significant area in the region and have been working with the township to examine the area and make improvements to the corridor,” Cupit said.

As of press time, Somerset County is set to make intersection and road modifications beginning later this spring, and a NJTPA Emerging Centers Program grant is set to commence by the beginning of summer. "The NJTPA Emerging Centers grant will tie into an existing NJTPA study of the same corridor in Middlesex County with the goal of increasing transportation opportunities along the corridor,” Cupit said.

At the Green Brook Township’s public meeting March 7, residents raised concerns about the project, particularly in terms of its density and school and traffic impacts. "The township committee was receptive to the public’s input and Mayor Nancy Stoll thanked them for attending," Cupit said. 

As it currently stands, said Cupit, Green Brook officials are reviewing the preliminary concept plans to determine compliance with the township’s ordinances. “Township officials are enthusiastic to see development interest in the Village Commercial district, and are committed to do so in a manner that will have a positive impact on the township and its residents,” Cupit said. “Township professionals are reviewing the proposal, including the impacts on schools, traffic and other concerns.”

Should the developer choose to move forward, they are required to submit detailed development plans to the township’s Land Use Board and Somerset County for review and approval. “The board and county would ultimately be charged with reviewing the overall site and its compliance with zoning laws, setbacks, traffic, and similar concerns,” Cupit said.

“We are really concerned about what kind of damage it will do to the area and neighborhood. A project like this will affect everything and will turn this quiet suburban town into a city,” a 35-year resident of Lenox Street who did not wish to be named told TAPinto.

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