PLAINFIELD, NJ - The first major development on North Avenue won final approval at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, as well as one redevelopment plan that could result in 10-story buildings and another for use of a former hospital parking lot.
When the board met on December 5, the development team for 1000 North Avenue was barraged with questions from the board. Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey surmised that they might not be able to return until February, but on Thursday Bey said all issues had been dealt with by the administration, the Shade Tree Commission and the applicant. After brief testimony by site engineer Joseph Sparone and comments by planner Charles Chappell, the board granted final site plan approval for the 120-unit project. Although the agenda said there would be dwelling units on all floors “including ground level” attorney Lawrence A. Calli confirmed that the applicant, North Avenue Urban Renewal LLC, would still be erecting a “podium building” with parking under the residential floors.
Steven Martini of Nishuane Group, LLC presented the two redevelopment plans. The Park Avenue Gateway Redevelopment plan is for a parking lot bounded by Park Avenue, Randolph Road, Laramie Road and a residential neighborhood. Formerly used by Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, which closed in 2008, the site was found to be “in need of redevelopment” in a study done by Nishuane Group, LLC.
Among board comments, William Toth asked that a proposed 30-foot setback from the residential neighborhood be increased to 35 feet. City Council liaison Charles McRae objected to allowing 75 dwelling units per acre, up from 3.5 units, but Bey said redevelopment plans change existing density.
McRae said the board “must take into account the demands of the community,” and recalled objections neighbors raised when over 600 units were proposed for the Muhlenberg site.
The redevelopment plan, which must be approved by the City Council, also allows for five stories and uses including retail, healthcare, apartments, and restaurants.
The board amended the plan to allow the 35-foot setback and surface parking for retail uses only, and it passed with McRae giving a loud “no” vote.
The TODD South Redevelopment Plan involves 120 properties bounded by the Raritan Valley Line to the north; Central, Madison and Arlington avenues to the west; East Sixth and East Seventh streets to the south; and Watchung Avenue to the east.
The plan’s goals are to attract new development “that will catalyze activity” around the main train station, City Hall, and the TODD areas. Due to the area’s size, it is divided into several districts with different standards. They are the Central Business District, the Cleveland Avenue Arts and Culture District, the Institutional District, the Light Industrial District, the Civic Historic District and the Medium/Moderate-Density Residential District. (Copies of the full 53-page TODD South plan may be obtained in the City Clerk’s office.)
The plan introduces a new concept of “bonuses,” such as extra stories on 8-floor buildings for including specific uses at ground level. For example, places featuring art, dance, or music recording studios could earn bonuses for owners in the Cleveland Avenue Arts and Culture District.
The concept kicked off a lengthy discussion among board members with a lot of ‘what-ifs,” such as what would happen if the ground floor occupants went out of business or the developer wanted to sell the building
“Easy answer,” Bey said. “If he sells it, he is selling it with the designation.”
A change of use would require coming back to the board, city planner Malvika Apte said.
“We’re talking about 10 stories,” board member William Toth said. “I’ve been on the board a long time. Why do we think it’s a good idea to put 10-story buildings downtown?”
Bey endorsed the idea, saying, “Eight stories is fine, but I support 10 stories for a bonus.”
Board member Sean McKenna asked how the city would police changes, noting other infractions downtown now. Bey remained philosophical, saying, “You can plan the best way you want,” but nothing is guaranteed.
Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson said most developers who do mixed use understand they have to subsidize retail and have to make their income with residential.
“The bonus is there for those who do what the city would like to see,” she said.
A final issue before the vote was adding open space to buildings, with McKenna suggesting roof decks. The board added open space to the motion, which passed unanimously.
The Planning Board will reorganize at 7:30 p.m. on January 16, 2020, in City Hall Library.